Since the 1970s, there has been a 40% decrease in the extent of summer sea ice. Photograph: AlaskaStock/Corbis
Study finds only 30% of radical loss of summer sea ice is due to natural variability in Atlantic – and it will probably get worse
The radical decline in sea ice around the Arctic is at least 70% due to human-induced climate change, according to a new study, and may even be up to 95% down to humans – rather higher than scientists had previously thought.
The loss of ice around the Arctic has adverse effects on wildlife and also opens up new northern sea routes and opportunities to drill for oil and gas under the newly accessible sea bed.
The reduction has been accelerating since the 1990s and many scientists believe the Arctic may become ice-free in the summers later this century, possibly as early as the late 2020s.
“Since the 1970s, there’s been a 40% decrease in the summer sea ice extent,” said Jonny Day, a climate scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading, who led the latest study.
“We were trying to determine how much of this was due to natural variability and therefore imply what aspect is due to man-made climate change as well.”
To test the ideas, Day carried out several computer-based simulations of how the climate around the Arctic might have fluctuated since 1979 without the input of greenhouse gases from human activity.
“We could only attribute as much as 30% [of the Arctic ice loss] to the AMO,” he said. “Which implies that the rest is due to something else, and this is most likely going to be man-made global change.”
Previous studies had indicated that around half of the loss was due to man-made climate change and that the other half was due to natural variability.