Mean number of open water (no sea ice) days per year.

© Tom Yulsman of Discover based on work of Barnhart et al.

11/14/2015 5:07:40 PM

Arctic Ocean Very Different than Last Century

A new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that parts of the Arctic Ocean are shifting rapidly to conditions very different from last century. 

"We hear all the time about how sea ice extent in the Arctic is going down," says Katy Barnhart, who led the study while at CU-Boulder's Institute for Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research (INSTAAR). "That's an important measurement if you are trying to understand broad impacts of climate change in the Arctic, but it doesn't tell us about how the changes in the sea ice in the Arctic are going to affect specific places."

Barnhart and her colleagues, including Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) Fellow Jennifer Kay and INSTAAR Fellow Irina Overeem, investigated local impacts of open water expansion patterns in the Arctic.

The researchers used climate models to see how the number of open water, or sea-ice-free, days change from 1850 to 2100 in the Arctic Ocean. They also wanted to understand when open water conditions in specific locations would be completely different from preindustrial conditions. 

"Assuming large greenhouse gases emissions continue, we will have an Arctic with less sea ice and more open water days, fully outside of pre-industrial natural climate variability. Polar bears and people will feel these impacts in the Arctic and beyond, but it is not too late to change the path we are following," said Kay.

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