Quirks & Quarks

Arctic ice losses were at near record levels — with particular concerns about Greenland melt

The year in ice — 2019 continued a dismal trend of polar ice loss

The year in ice — 2019 continued a dismal trend of polar ice loss

NASA image from satellite data shows Arctic sea ice extent on September 18, 2019, the second lowest on record. The orange border indicates median ice edge from 1981-2010 (NSIDC / NASA Earth Observatory.)

Polar regions are warming faster than the rest of the world with climate change, and the impact of this on Arctic ice this year was enormous. 

According to David Barber, Canada Research Chair in Arctic systems science at the University of Manitoba, 2019 continued a dismal trend in Arctic ice losses.

The enormous Greenland ice sheet gains ice through snowfall every winter, but losses to melting and glacial calving have increased to the point that there was a net loss of slightly more than 300 billion tons this year, which was exceeded only by losses in 2012.

The extent of this loss was due to a range of factors. Summer ice melt seasons are longer on Greenland than they have been historically. They're also greater in the extent of affected area, as melting used to be confined to the lower elevations, while the higher parts of the ice cap were stable. This summer, however, melting conditions were seen at times over 90 per cent of the island.

Barber said that new research has revealed how this melting might be accelerating the movement of solid ice off of Greenland by moving meltwater beneath the ice sheet and lubricating the flow of glaciers into the sea.

Permanent Arctic sea ice has also continued to shrink in response to climate change, as summer extent this year was the second lowest on record, with 2016 being the lowest. The ice has also continued to thin as multi-year ice that forms the core of the icepack melts.

The research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen has had its activities disrupted in recent years by the unpredictable movement of thick multi-year sea ice into the Atlantic. (Christopher Paetkau/Submitted)

One unexpected result of this, said Barber, is that the Arctic ice pack is less consolidated and more mobile than it used to be, which over the past couple of years has facilitated thick, multi-year ice leaving the Arctic and interfering with shipping and fishing activities off the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland.

Another change in the Arctic Barber said he and his colleagues, as well as local fishers, are seeing is the movement of species from the north Pacific and north Atlantic into warmer Arctic waters which he called the "Pacification" and "Atlantification" of the Arctic.

In addition, cold-adapted northern species are finding the newly warmed conditions challenging and this is upsetting the delicate ecosystem of the north.


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