Ice levels plummet by 90% in parts of Arctic Ocean

Study finds reduction is having a knock-on effect on sea ice imported from the polar basin

Melting ice on the Barents Sea has bighted the habitat of polar bears. Photo:

The thickness of ice in parts of the Arctic Ocean has fallen by 90 per cent, scientists have found, showing the unprecedented impact climate change is having on the planet.

More than 120 experts carried out extensive research on the Barents Sea and discovered record-low levels of ice which they say has led to a decrease in sea ice imported from the polar basin.

The sea, which extends from Russia’s eastern coast and mainland Norway up to the Svalbard archipelago, makes up a small part of the Arctic.

The region is an important site for hydrocarbon exploration and fishing, particularly for Russian and Norwegian fishermen.

Overall, the warming of the Arctic is contributing to nearly 4 per cent of global ocean warming, experts estimate.

The cohort of scientists behind the study, from more than 30 European institutions, published their findings in the peer-reviewed Journal of Operational Oceanography.

Their paper, titled the Copernicus Ocean State Report, detailed how Arctic ice levels recorded in the last two years have reached record lows.

The scientists also linked extreme variability in weather, with cold-spells and marine heatwaves, to reported changes of marine life in the North Sea, which stretches from the UK to mainland Europe.

They said the weather phenomena had affected catches of sole, European lobster, sea bass, red mullet and edible crabs.

Report chairwoman Dr Karina von Schuckmann, of Mercator Ocean international, said there was a need for improved development and provision of state-of-the art ocean knowledge and products, plus regular monitoring through the EU-funded Copernicus programme.

“Climate change, pollution, and overexploitation have placed unprecedented pressures on the ocean, requiring the urgent need for sustainable measures for governance, adaptation, and management in order to secure the various life support roles the ocean offers for human well-being,” she said.

“Scientifically-sound knowledge derived from high-quality ocean products and delivered by ocean services is critical to stimulate transformative change.

“Considering the ocean as a fundamental factor in the Earth system and embracing the multidimensional and interconnected nature of the ocean is the bedrock for a sustainable future.”

Globally, average sea temperatures went up at a rate of 0.015C per year from 1993-2019. Oxygen levels in the Black Sea dropped at a rate of -0.16 mol/m2/year from 1955-2019.

Scientists also said higher-than-average waves in the southern Mediterranean in 2019 were linked to global warming, as were four consecutive floods in Venice in November of that year.

Other findings included unusual sea levels and extreme wave conditions in the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea in 2019.

Dr von Schuckmann said: “The ocean products and services that the Copernicus Marine Service provides are used by other systems to develop state-of-the-art tools for tracking and forecasting key ocean changes.

“These tools and technologies, including alert systems, forecasting technologies, and real-time monitoring programmes, help to protect marine environments and human communities, to provide early warning systems, to safeguard economic infrastructure, to develop adaptation measures, and to plan for and manage extreme ocean events.

“This issue of the Copernicus Ocean State Report provides insight into the design and functioning of downstream tools and is approached from several angles, presenting the state of the changing ocean, examining evolving impacts of the changing ocean in line with climate change on environmental, human, social, and economic systems, and discussing the importance of science, data and services for society and policy in adapting to these impacts.”

Updated: November 22, 2021, 8:49 AM