Increasingly mobile sea ice risks polluting Arctic neighbors

University of Colorado at Boulder

Sea ice at the North Pole in 2015. Credit: Christopher Michel

Sea ice at the North Pole in 2015. Credit: Christopher Michel

The movement of sea ice between Arctic countries is expected to significantly increase this century, raising the risk of more widely transporting pollutants like microplastics and oil, according to new research from CU Boulder.

The study in the American Geophysical Union journal Earth’s Future predicts that by mid-century, the average time it takes for sea ice to travel from one region to another will decrease by more than half, and the amount of sea ice exchanged between Arctic countries such as Russia, Norway, Canada and the United States will more than triple.

Increased interest in off-shore Arctic development, as well as shipping through the Central Arctic Ocean, may increase the amount of pollutants present in Arctic waters. And contaminants in frozen ice can travel much farther than those in open water moved by ocean currents.

“This means there is an increased potential for sea ice to quickly transport all kinds of materials with it, from algae to oil,” said Patricia DeRepentigny, doctoral candidate in the Department for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. “That’s important to consider when putting together international laws to regulate what happens in the Arctic.”

Historically, floating masses of Arctic sea ice could survive for up to 10 years: building up layers, lasting through each summer and not moving very far during any given year. As the climate warms, however, that pattern has been changing.

While overall, the sea ice cover is thinning – and melting entirely across vast regions in the summer – the area of new ice formed during winter is actually increasing, particularly along the Russian coastline and soon in the Central Arctic Ocean. This thinner ice can move faster in the increasingly open waters of the Arctic, delivering the particles and pollutants it carries to waters of neighboring states.

“Ice moves faster, but as the climate warms, it doesn’t have as much time as before to travel before it melts,” said DeRepentigny. “Because of that, we really see that it’s the regions that are directly downstream of each country’s waters that are going to be most affected.”

Different emissions scenarios

In a previous study, DeRepentigny and her colleagues examined the movement of Arctic sea ice from the instrumental record starting in 1979, when the first continuous satellite observations began. That study was the first to document an increase in the amount of sea ice being transported from one region to another over the last four decades.

“That was really eye opening,” said DeRepentigny. “The follow-up question then was: How is this going to play out in the future? It opened a really big box of new questions.”

So the researchers used a global climate model, together with the Sea Ice Tracking Utility (SITU) – which DeRepentigny helped develop – to track sea ice from where it forms to where it ultimately melts during the 21st century.

The researchers considered two different emissions scenarios: the more extreme “business as usual” scenario, which predicts warming of 4 to 5 degrees Celsius by 2100, and a warming scenario limited to 2 degrees Celsius, inspired by the Paris Agreement. They then modeled how the sea ice will behave in both these scenarios at the middle and the end of the century.

In three of these four situations – including both mid-century predictions – the movement of sea ice between Arctic countries increased.

But in the high emissions scenario at the end of the century, they found countries could end up dealing more with their own ice and its contaminants, than ice from their neighbors. This is because with 4 degrees or more of warming in 2100, the majority of sea ice that freezes during winter will melt each spring in the same region where it was formed.

Russia and the Central Arctic

Russia’s exclusive economic zone and the Central Arctic Ocean are two places the researchers expect more ice to form, becoming major “exporters” of ice to other regions in the Arctic.

An exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is an area extending 200 nautical miles from the coastline, over which a state has special rights regarding fishing, shipping, and industrial activities like offshore oil drilling. Five countries have exclusive economic zones in the Arctic Ocean: Canada, the United States, Russia, Norway and Denmark (Greenland).

DeRepentigny and her colleagues found that the amount of ice originating from Russia that then melts in another exclusive economic zone doubles by mid-century.

However, the Central Arctic in the middle of the Arctic Ocean is a place where no country has exclusive economic rights. Due to the Arctic Ocean being more ice free in summers, this will become an attractive shipping route – especially because ships don’t need to get permission from another country to travel through it.

“That has several implications,” said DeRepentigny. “Who’s responsible for contaminants and materials that melt in the Central Arctic or get exported out of the Central Arctic into different countries? It’s no longer just a national question.”

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Additional co-authors of this research include Alexandra Jahn at the University of Colorado Boulder, L. Bruno Tremblay at McGill University and Columbia University, Robert Newton at Columbia University, and Stephanie Pfirman at Arizona State University.

From EurekAlert!

41 thoughts on “Increasingly mobile sea ice risks polluting Arctic neighbors

  1. “contaminants in frozen ice can travel much farther than those in open water moved by ocean currents.This means there is an increased potential for sea ice to quickly transport all kinds of materials with it, from algae to oil.

    Translation: eco freaks don’t want commercial ocean traffiic or oil and gas development in the Arctic and they are trying to figure out the why of it. The Arctic is the new Bambi.

    • Yup. “Increased transport” can be rewritten as “dilution” by somebody without an eco freak agenda.

      • Good point.

        However, climatologists totally failed to predict the dramatic fall in Arctic sea ice between 1997 and 2007 wailing it was far worse than models predicited.

        they made some excuses and added more feedbacks and tweaked models to be closer to long term decline but are now unable to understand why despite the albedo feedback, the methane f/b , the permafrost f/b the last two years had a sea ice extent indistinguishable from where it was in 2007 when they started screaming about ice free summers.

        Time to admit they don’t know squat about what is driving the ice changes but it sure ain’t CO2 !!

  2. “While overall, the sea ice cover is thinning – and melting entirely across vast regions in the summer“

    Not true according to the Danish Meteorological Institute and the National Snow and Ice Data Centre which both show Arctic ice extent has remained about the same since 2006 and Arctic ice volume has remained the same since about 2010.

    But never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

    • Further to your comments , Peter, just last month the Polarstern expedition posted problems about crew transfers due to unexpectedly thick ice:
      https://notrickszone.com/2020/02/26/exchange-of-arctic-research-crew-gets-delayed-as-supply-ice-breaker-blocked-by-unexpected-dense-sea-ice/
      Given first hand experience from an expedition deliberately designed to explore the sea ice conditions why do other academics persist in promoting dubious information. I suppose the excuse is that the paper was written before current sea ice data was available, which might be reasonable except about 3 years ago the BBC reported the failure of a (Shell?) oil drilling expedition in the Arctic because of abnormally thick ice .

      • Peter is correct. Thinning ice is a lie.

        What they are doing is saying “overall” and then drawing a straight line, reducing the entire 42y record of daily measurements down to one scalar property “the trend”. This is a deceptive claim that the sea ice “IS” thinning. That means in the present and presently it is NOT thinning.

        CPOM ice volume data from cryosat2 shows slight recovery since the 2012 OMG minimum. This blows away the speculative hypothesis of the albedo feedback causing runaway melting.

        If the albedo feedback was even mildly dominant, there would not have 8 years of increased ice volume.

      • The usual disingenuous crap from the Guardian climate zealots.

        The spent years screaming about impending “ice free summers” being the canary. Then they switched to Antarctic to hide the fact Arctic had stopped melting. Then it winter max which was low. Then it was “this is loweest January 13th ice cover on record”. Now it’s Greenland.

        They have more canaries than the Canary Islands themselves. As soon as one fails to fall over they find another one to worry us all about.

        Due to the Arctic Ocean being more ice free in summers, this will become an attractive shipping route – especially because ships don’t need to get permission from another country to travel through it.

    • “Not true” if you cherry-pick the right years, but if you look at the long term trend you see a steady relentless fall in both extent and volume. What else would you expect from a long-term, steady, relentless rise in temperature?

      • Are you aware that over the past 550 million years, the earth has had ice at both poles only approx 10% of the time? The other 90% of the time only Antarctica had ice cover.

        It follows that today is part of those 10% – ever pondered what the current max of some 15 million sq km @ 2.5 m thick implies?

      • Loydo you need to stop using fossil fuels every day every day every every day, and until you do you are a fossil fuel flaming hypocrite, stop driving stop flying stop heating and no more lights or phone. What do you want others to do that you are not doing?

      • Yes Loydo we all would agree with you- if there was a steady relentless rise in temperature-but is that so?
        The decrease in ice extent and volume may be , in the longest view, relentless , but it is far from steady as the comments above and below yours suggest.
        One reason is that there are other factors than CO2 influencing arctic temperatures and sea ice. One of these, highlighted recently in a NoTricksZone article on the warm winter in Europe is the NAO, North Atlantic Oscillation .
        https://notrickszone.com/2020/03/17/europes-warm-winter-due-to-natural-factors-says-norwegian-center-for-climate-research-cicero/

        If the NAO is positive it is abnormaly cold in the area of seaice between Greenland and the Canada coast and warm and wet in Europe. This may be a conributing factor to the larger than expected degree of seaice this last winter , and next year it could be reversed. To claim a steady trend ignores both facts and what we are beginning to understand about mechanisms and it would have the effect of hobbling our understanding of the amazing and complex world that we inhabit.

      • Sea ice is a lot higher than it was during all of the Holocene Optimum.
        It is higher than it was during any of the recent warm periods, Minoan, Roman or Medieval.

        Loydo insists that only the time period that shows what he wants to see is the correct one.

      • If these trends you speak of are true, why are various countries, Russia for instance, building ever bigger icebreakers? Why would Australia need an icebreaker? Seems to me to be an awful lot of effort if there is less and less ice.

      • Loydo-please stop exhaling immediately and save the world from your CO2 emissions! We’ll all breathe easier.

    • yeah they likely have some real hard data, such as on-site observations while the eco-freaks constantly just look at satellite photos and conjure up new scenarios!

  3. “The researchers considered two different emissions scenarios: the more extreme “business as usual” scenario, which predicts warming of 4 to 5 degrees Celsius by 2100, and a warming scenario limited to 2 degrees Celsius, inspired by the Paris Agreement. They then modeled how the sea ice will behave in both these scenarios at the middle and the end of the century.”

    Science – direct from Planet Libtardia.

    I’m not only embarrassed to be a scientist, this makes me embarrassed to be a human being. I’m also a bit surprised that Michael Mann wasn’t able to get his name on this garbage since it’s pitched at his level of science.

  4. I say go with the “business as usual” scenario of 4 deg C warming and “tend to melt in situ”, because one of the contaminants that could arrive at your remote village and start eating your children, is our friend the polar bear. However, I don’t think humans have their fingers on the control knob of climate change, so no pasa nada.

  5. This winter, the Arctic suffered its highest sea ice maximum since 2013. That’s right, more ice this March than in any of the past six years. And 2013 not much more.

    Antarctica’s minimum this austral summer was also normal for the past 30 years. Ice is not disappearing from the planet.

  6. As for melting across vast regions in summer, the record low since 1979 for Arctic sea ice occurred in 2012. Its trend since then is up and flat since 2006.

  7. “DeRepentigny and her colleagues examined the movement of Arctic sea ice from the instrumental record starting in 1979, when the first continuous satellite observations began. ”

    Typical climate “me-too” science. The movements of the polar ice has been understood since Nansen figured out the broad picture c. 1890 and proved it by the Fram expedition 1893-96.

    And yes, thinner ice moves faster. Fram drifted for 35 months from the New Siberian Islands to Fram Strait at the end of the LIA. Sedov did the same stretch in 27 months during the warm thirties (1937-40).

  8. From the article: “In a previous study, DeRepentigny and her colleagues examined the movement of Arctic sea ice from the instrumental record starting in 1979, when the first continuous satellite observations began. That study was the first to document an increase in the amount of sea ice being transported from one region to another over the last four decades.

    “That was really eye opening,” said DeRepentigny. “The follow-up question then was: How is this going to play out in the future? It opened a really big box of new questions.”

    It should be expected that sea ice amount being transported would increase from 1979 to the present, because 1979 was a very cold period in our history which warmed up to today’s warmer temperatures so it is to be expected that this environment would increase ice melting.

    The same type of situation happened in the period from 1910 to 1940. The years around 1910 were some of the coldest in recorded temperature history and were equivalent to the cold temperatures of the 1970’s when many climate scientists thought the Earth might be slipping into another Ice Age because of how the temperatures had behaved from 1940 to 1980, where they kept getting cooler and cooler decade after decade.

    What happened after 1940? The temperatures started cooling off for decades and the sea ice in the arctic stopped being so mobile.

    What will happen after our current warm period runs its course? Probably the same thing that happened after 1940, if history is our guide.

    Here’s the Hansen 1999 US surface temperature chart which clearly shows the cool periods of 1910 and the 1970’s, and the warm periods of the 1930’s, and of today (1998 on this chart being only one-tenth of a degree cooler than 2016).

    So the temperatures warmed up from 1910 to 1940, and then the temperatures cooled from 1940 to 1980, and then the temperatures warmed from the 1980’s to the present. What would be the next move in this pattern? I would say another cooling period equal to the cooling from 1940 to 1980. My guess is as good as anyone’s. 🙂

    https://climateaudit.files.wordpress.com/2007/02/uhcnh2.gif

    And just for the fun of it, here’s the chart of the AMO. Notice how similar its profile is to the US surface temperature chart. It also shows the cool 1910’s and the cool 1970’s, and the warm 1930’s. Fraudulent Hockey Stick charts don’t show any of this detail. On purpose.

    https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/tsgcos.corr_.81.159.104.45.247.15.34.31.png

  9. “Due to the Arctic Ocean being more ice free in summers, this will become an attractive shipping route – especially because ships don’t need to get permission from another country to travel through it.”

    Even taking the inshore route along the Siberian coast in summer usually requires icebreaker assistance, and only a small handful of freighters have ever gotten through the (coastal) Northwest Passage. Only extremely powerful icebreakers can, with difficulty, operate in the central Arctic.

  10. More confirmation bias where alleged researchers fantasize problems and dangers from models where their presumptions start with eventual devastation.

    “So the researchers used a global climate model, together with the Sea Ice Tracking Utility (SITU) – which DeRepentigny helped develop – to track sea ice from where it forms to where it ultimately melts during the 21st century.

    The researchers considered two different emissions scenarios: the more extreme “business as usual” scenario, which predicts warming of 4 to 5 degrees Celsius by 2100, and a warming scenario limited to 2 degrees Celsius, inspired by the Paris Agreement. They then modeled how the sea ice will behave in both these scenarios at the middle and the end of the century.”

    I bolded text to highlight model references.

    • This is yet again a case of Pathological Science from Climate “Scientists”, who confuse their computer models with empirical and observable reality.

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