CICERO - Center for International Climate Research

Arctic sea ice in transformation: A review of recent observed changes and impacts on biology and human activity

Walter N. Meier, Grete K. Hovelsrud, Bob van Oort, Jeffrey R. Key, Kit M. Kovacs, Christine Michel, Christian Haas, Mats A. Granskog, Sebastian Gerland, Donald K. Perovich, P. Makshtas Alexander, James D Reist

Sea ice in the Arctic is one of the most rapidly changing components of the global climate system. Over the past few decades, summer areal extent has declined over 30%, and all months show statistically significant declining trends. New satellite missions and techniques have greatly expanded information on sea ice thickness, but many uncertainties remain in the satellite data and long-term records are sparse. However, thickness observations and other satellite-derived data indicate a 40% decline in thickness, due in large part to the loss of thicker, older ice cover. The changes in sea ice are happening faster than models have projected. With continued increasing temperatures, summer ice-free conditions are likely sometime in the coming decades, though there are substantial uncertainties in the exact timing and high interannual variability will remain as sea ice decreases. The changes in Arctic sea ice are already having an impact on flora and fauna in the Arctic. Some species will face increasing challenges in the future, while new habitat will open up for other species. The changes are also affecting people living and working in the Arctic. Native communities are facing challenges to their traditional ways of life, while new opportunities open for shipping, fishing, and natural resource extraction. Significant progress has been made in recent years in understanding of Arctic sea ice and its role in climate, the ecosystem, and human activities. However, significant challenges remain in furthering the knowledge of the processes, impacts, and future evolution of the system.

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