It’s been two years since former vice president Al Gore claimed the Arctic would be free of sea ice, and despite fears of a hastening polar “death spiral” earlier this year, the north pole looks like it could have near normal ice coverage this summer.
After experiencing its lowest maximum sea ice extent on record, the Arctic ice coverage has rebounded and is currently within its normal 30-year range. Near the end of May 2015, experts warned the Arctic “ice extent was at daily record low levels” because of early ice melting in the Bering Sea and low ice conditions in the Barents Sea.
Yet, even during the May melt, “ice [was] tracking at near-average levels” in other parts of the Arctic, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The Arctic is nearing the peak melting time for the year and sea ice levels are well above where they were in 2012 — that year saw record low levels in the early summer months.
Though NASA says this year’s record-low maximum ice coverage is not the best indicator of the Arctic’s future.
“It is highly influenced by weather and we’re looking at the loss of thin, seasonal ice that is going to melt anyway in the summer and won’t become part of the permanent ice cover,” said Walt Meier, a NASA scientist. “With the summertime minimum, when the extent decreases it’s because we’re losing the thick ice component, and that is a better indicator of warming temperatures.”
While sea ice loss seems to have stabilized in the last few years, it’s still on a long-term downward trend as the region warms — the so-called “death spiral.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration thinks the Arctic could be ice free during the summer in 25 years. But not all experts agree.
“I doubt the Arctic will be free of all ice in any summer, although the total area may well be greatly reduced in the future if it continues to warm there,” said Chip Knappenberger, a climate scientist at the libertarian Cato Institute.
“Such a situation should not be overly worrisome, as there is ample evidence that it has occurred in the past and clearly, polar bears, and everything else up there managed to survive,” Knappenberger said.
But no Arctic sea ice by 2040, is a far cry from past predictions made by scientists and activists about when the north pole would be ice free.
Al Gore famously predicted in 2008 that the Arctic would be ice free within five years — so by 2013. It’s been seven years since his prediction and the Arctic is still full of ice. In fact, the Arctic did the exact opposite of what Gore predicted and increased 50 percent from 2012 levels.
Gore, however, was simply repeating a claim made in 2007 by American scientist Wieslaw Maslowsk, who said “you can argue that may be our projection of [an ice-free Arctic by 2013] is already too conservative.”
Then-Sen. John Kerry echoed Gore’s prediction, claiming in 2009 the Arctic would be ice free in five years. In 2014, the Arctic’s sea-ice volumes during the fall were above the average of the last five years.
Before that, a Canadian researcher said the Arctic could lose all its summer ice coverage as early as 2010. Louis Fortier, scientific director of Canadian research network ArcticNet, warned it’s “probably going to happen even faster than that,” because the melt was happening faster than the United Nations predicted.
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