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Importance of Arctic Sea Ice UPSC NOTE

 

  • Arctic sea ice influences global climate and Arctic sea temperatures.

  • During winter, sea ice covers most of the Arctic Ocean, while in summer, a portion melts due to sunlight and elevated temperatures.

  • Sea ice reflects sunlight back into space, keeping polar regions cool and maintaining Earth's energy balance.

  • It acts as a barrier between cold air and warmer water, helping to keep the air cool.

  • Reduction in sea ice reduces the Arctic's cooling effect, leading to a feedback loop of further ice loss and warming.


Impacts of Arctic Sea Ice Loss

  • Biodiversity and mammals like polar bears and walruses are affected as they rely on sea ice for hunting, breeding, and migrating.

  • Indigenous Arctic populations, such as the Yup'ik, Iñupiat, and Inuit, are impacted as their traditional subsistence hunting is affected.

  • Reduced ice cover presents commercial and economic opportunities, including shipping lanes and access to natural resources.

  • Global competition has emerged among countries for influence and access to Arctic resources.


Findings of the New Study

  • Arctic sea ice loss is well-known, and the first 'sea-ice free summer' is expected before 2050 under high emissions scenarios.

  • Previous uncertainty existed regarding whether reduced emissions could save Arctic sea ice in summer.

  • The recent study confirms that no scenario can save Arctic sea ice in summer, even with reduced emissions.

  • If drastic emission reductions are not undertaken, the first ice-free summer could occur in the 2030s.

  • Satellite records show a loss rate of nearly 13% per year since monitoring began.


Basis of the Study's Conclusions

  • Anthropogenic factors (human-induced) contribute to around 90% of ice melting, while natural variability accounts for the rest.

  • Climate models, including those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), underestimated the rate of melting.

  • Correcting for this underestimation shows potential ice-free Augusts and Octobers by 2080 under high emissions scenarios.

  • The study's projections are reasonable for September, with little difference in temperature change until 2060 across emissions pathways.

Steps to be Taken

  • Reducing carbon emissions can help adapt to climate "tipping points" and mitigate the impacts of diminished sea ice.

  • Diminished sea ice weakens polar jet streams, leading to rising temperatures, heatwaves in Europe, and unseasonal showers in northwest India.

  • By reducing carbon emissions, it may be possible to better adapt to these climate changes and tipping points.

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