Bangor Physicist among world experts discussing climatic effect of disappearing Arctic sea ice

Bangor University Ocean Physicist Prof Tom Rippeth is one of 12 international scientists to be invited to speak at a workshop organised by the International Arctic Science Committee to discuss the future impact of the complete disappearance of Arctic Sea Ice cover in the summer.

The Arctic region has warmed at more than twice the rate of the global average temperature rise. A contributory factor to the rapid warming has been the dramatic summer melting of the sea ice which covers the Arctic Ocean. Although the Arctic Ocean may seem remote from civilisation, what happens there is thought to be affecting climate and weather patterns in the northern hemisphere.

Scientists are recording record-breaking low levels of summer sea ice. 2014 saw the sixth lowest area of seasonal sea ice cover since records began. The lowest areas of sea ice ever recorded have all occurred within the last eight summers. These low levels of sea ice; or high levels of sea ice retreat; have been implicated in the increased frequency of extreme weather events across the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes in recent years. These changing patterns include the recent unprecedented run of wet summers (2007-2012) and severe winters (2009-2011, 2013-14) experienced here in the UK.

The workshop at the world renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US (20-22nd October) will bring together Arctic Ocean experts from across the global to examine the potential impacts of the complete disappearance of the sea ice in summer, a prospect which may only be decades away given the recent large retreats in sea ice cover.

Prof Rippeth of the University’s School of Ocean Sciences explains:

“The Arctic Ocean is very calm in comparison to the rest of the world’s oceans. This is partly a result of sea ice cover which isolates the sea below from the effects of the winds blowing across the surface. The great concern is that the removal of the ice will result in a more turbulent ocean, which will in turn affect what happens to the freshwater and heat within the Arctic and alter the currents linking the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. The disappearance of the Arctic Sea Ice could, for example, impact on major Atlantic currents such as the Gulf Stream.”

“The aim of the workshop is to identify future research priorities which will enable improved prediction of the impact of the declining, and eventually disappearing, Arctic Ocean Sea Ice cover in summer.”

Publication date: 13 October 2014