124 Projected Sea Ice-Free Conditions in Arctic Waters

Monday, 11 January 2016
Frederic B. Laliberte, EC, Toronto, ON, Canada; and S. Howell and P. J. Kushner

Over the past several decades satellite and in-situ observations of Arctic sea extent have documented a rapidly decreasing sea ice cover during the summer months. Future projections from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) suggest a sea ice-free summer Arctic somewhere around mid-century if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed. Regional variability in sea ice cover is however large across the Arctic and it tends to influence the timing of future sea ice free conditions. For shipping and resources extraction, regional knowledge of future sea ice conditions is key to the development of policies to protect the environment while maximizing the economic potential. Here, a comprehensive assessment of when Arctic waters will be sea ice-free during the months of June to October is presented. It is shown that before 2060, only the Barents Sea, Baffin Bay, Hudson Bay and Greenland Sea are likely to become sea ice-free from July to October while the Beaufort Sea will likely only become sea ice-free in September. The Chukchi Sea might become sea ice-free from August to October by 2050 but most likely not before 2070. The Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA) and the Central Arctic Ocean which contain the most difficult section of Northwest Passage and Transpolar Sea Route, respectively are unlikely to become sea ice-free in any month by mid-century. So while a future with little September Arctic sea ice can be envisioned, the environmental challenges associated with future economic opportunities in the Arctic will likely be limited to that month in many regions for most of the twenty-first century.
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