Sustainability Climate Change

New study finds Arctic ice is melting twice as fast as we thought

arctic study ice cap coverage wind seas 70 percent decline
Ice melts near Nordenskjodbreen glacier on August 25, 2020 on the Norwegian Arctic Svalbard archipelago, Norway. Nordenskiöldbreen (Nordenskiöld Glacier) is a glacier in Spitsbergen, named after Finnish geologist Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • Research at the University College London found 60 to 100 percent declines in Arctic ice coverage — more than previously calculated.
  • The study used statistical models that accounted for data like air temperature and snowfall rather than relying solely on satellite data.
  • Polar ice is crucial for maintaining a cool planet.

Existing scientific literature thoroughly documents the rapid melting of Arctic ice thanks to rising global temperatures, a major problem for oceanic environments and Earth itself, both of which rely on northern ice to regulate its temperature.

A new study suggests that the problem could be worsening faster than anticipated, using historic snow depth data to gauge recent trends.

Looking at a sample portion of Arctic snow via a new statistical model for six of seven winter months, researchers observed a range of 60 to 100 percent more sea ice loss than previously thought. 

“Previous calculations of sea ice thickness are based on a snow map last updated 20 years ago,” said Robbie Mallett, a graduate student at the University College of London, in a release. “Because sea ice has begun forming later and later in the year, the snow on top has less time to accumulate. Our calculations account for this declining snow depth for the first time, and suggest the sea ice is thinning faster than we thought.”

Mallett, who led the study published in the journal Cryosphere, and his colleagues relied on several statistical analyses that used historical data on sea ice coverage and thickness, mapping it across the regions of the Arctic.


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Some of the input variables included air temperature, snowfall volume, wind speeds and ice motion data.

Between October to April, researchers saw snow thickness vary increasingly along marginal sea regions and expect more changes and faster declines in sea ice thickness over the coming winter months. 

Along three coastal Arctic seas, the Laptev, Kara and Chukchi, the rate of sea ice decline jumped into the 70, 98, and 110 percent ranges, respectively, a far deviation from previous calculations that relied primarily on satellite data to assess ice coverage. 

Researchers believe this coverage analysis will set the tone of Arctic ice research in the future and broader polar climate trends.

“We believe our new calculations are a major step forward in terms of more accurately interpreting the data we have from satellites,” said Julienne Stroeve, a professor and co-author of the study, in the release. “We hope this work can be used to better assess the performance of climate models that forecast the effects of long-term climate change in the Arctic – a region that is warming at three times the global rate, and whose millions of square kilometres of ice are essential for keeping the planet cool.”


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