sealA nearly ice-free summertime Arctic Ocean may happen three times sooner than scientists estimated.

New research shows the Arctic may lose most of its ice cover in summer in as few as 30 years, instead of the end of the century (as some scientists projected).

The ocean’s ice could shrink to about 1 million square kilometers, or about 620,000 square miles. Compare this to today’s ice extent: 4.6 million square kilometers, or 2.8 million square miles.

“In recent years, the combination of unusual warm temperatures from natural causes and the global warming signal have worked together to provide an earlier summer sea-ice loss than was predicted when scientists considered the effects from human-caused carbon dioxide alone,” says James Overland, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.

warmingarcticScientists don’t expect the Arctic to be totally ice free. They predict ice will still be found along northern Canada and Greenland, where powerful winds sweeping across the Arctic Ocean force ice layers to slide on top of each other, creating a very thick ice cover.

That said, an Arctic meltdown raises the question of ecosystem upheaval.

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