2011-08-12 02:37:54MIT study says Arctic ice thinning 4x faster than predicted
John Hartz
John Hartz

Arctic ice might be thinning four times faster than predicted, this according to a new study out of MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmosphere, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).

Previous Arctic ice data was presented in the Fourth Assessment Report at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2007.  The IPCC’s forecasting was heavily dependent on temperature to predict Arctic ice levels, but Pierre Rampal of EAPS and his research team believe that the report greatly underestimated the mechanical forces that contribute to ice-melting.

When mechanical forces like wind or ocean currents interact with an ice sheet (both of which are prevalent during the Arctic’s winter months), the sheet is more likely to break up into smaller pieces.  These smaller pieces of ice behave differently than larger ones and are more susceptible to thinning via temperature changes.  By not including mechanical factors, Rampal claims that the IPCC report is significantly off. Upon inclusion of these mechanical factors, the new research states that “Arctic sea ice is thinning, on average, four times faster than the models say, and it’s drifting twice as quickly,” according to the Technology Review.

The study, which will appear in the next edition of the Journal of Geophysical Research – Oceans and is co-authored by Rampal and Jean-Michel Campin of EAPS, as well as two French scientists, Jérôme Weiss and Clotilde Dubois, has some interesting feedback mechanisms, both positive and negative.  The study recognizes that smaller pieces of ice are more likely to move to warmer waters where the ice would melt, which would mean more Artctic ice thinning.  Conversely, smaller pieces of ice closer together could promote more ice growth by exposing freezing air to ocean water.

As you can see, it is a very complex mechanism because there is so many factors to consider.  Rampal best explains this complexity himself: “It’s hard to predict the future of Arctic sea ice.”

Source: MIT study says Arctic ice thinning 4x faster than predicted, Bostinnovation, Aug 10, 2011