The Arctic could be ice-free in a few decades, researchers warn

Polar bear, photo: Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash
Polar bear, photo: Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

Researchers returning from a year-long Arctic expedition have warned that polar ice is melting and that the Arctic could be ice-free within a few decades if humanity does not change course.

“This world is threatened. We really saw how the ice is disappearing. North of Greenland, we found broad expanses of open water, in an area where there should normally be thick ice,” expedition leader Markus Rex told Reuters.

“Even at the Pole, the ice is completely melted and full of holes. It was very evident, you could see it all around. You didn’t need measuring instruments. The ice is dying,” he continued.

Rex and his crew arrived at the port of Bremerhaven in Germany on Monday after more than a year drifting in Arctic ice – the most ambitious Arctic research expedition ever undertaken.

“If we keep going as we are, then the Arctic will be ice-free in summer within a few decades,” Rex said.

“In winter, we almost continuously measured temperatures ten degrees higher than those measured by Fridtjof Nansen on his expedition, which was the big precursor to ours 125 years ago. And now the ice is only half as thick as measurements that were taken 40 years ago.”

Without ice, polar bears can’t survive
Polar bears depend on ice to hunt and store energy for summer and autumn when there’s less food. With ice melting so fast in the Arctic, the animals are having a hard time finding food. In July, scientists said that climate change is starving polar bears into extinction. If humans don’t change, the animals will disappear by 2100.

The Polarstern (meaning Polar Star) is a German ice-breaking ship of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). The researchers left on the ship in September 2019 from Norway. They went towards the central Arctic.

For a year, they examined changes in the atmosphere, ice and ocean and their impact on the climate system at the “epicenter” of climate change, the Arctic.

Rex described the challenges of the expedition – including mountains of ice appearing suddenly due to changes in pressure, cracks in the ice endangering equipment, the danger posed by polar bears and the toll of working for months on end in complete darkness during the Arctic winter.

Even though Rex gave a sobering description of the environment the scientists found, he deemed the mission, named “MOSAiC”, a success, saying the researchers had achieved all their goals and collected data that would shape climate research for decades to come.

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