Arctic sea ice - changes and consequences

By professor dr. RĂ¼diger Gerdes (AWI)

Arguably, the retreat of summer sea ice is the most visible element of substantial environmental changes in the Arctic in recent years. Sea ice extent varies markedly from year to year and especially the minimum summer sea ice extent shows a strong downward trend of 11%/decade. Dramatic changes as in the summer 2007 are thought to be related to a gradual decline in sea ice volume that is due to increasing air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean. Air temperature in high northern latitudes is subject to natural fluctuations with a periodicity of several decades. Currently, we are in a warm phase. Natural variability and the anthropogenic temperature trend combine to reduce the overall Arctic sea ice volume. The reduction in sea ice volume is related to a pronounced change in the seasonal cycle of Arctic sea ice which in turn has an impact on the atmospheric state over the Arctic year round. A tendency towards more meridional atmospheric flow can even affect the climate and weather in northern Europe. Reduction in sea ice volume also implies less fresh water transport from the Arctic through sea ice. Consequently, fresh water content in the Arctic Ocean and transport of low salinity Polar Water with the East Greenland Current are likely to increase.
Willem Barentsz Poolinstituut

Bundeling van kennis, onderzoek en onderwijs over de Noord- en de Zuidpool

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