Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Model shows polar ice caps can recover from warmer climate-induced melting

18.08.2011
A growing body of recent research indicates that, in Earth's warming climate, there is no "tipping point," or threshold warm temperature, beyond which polar sea ice cannot recover if temperatures come back down. New University of Washington research indicates that even if Earth warmed enough to melt all polar sea ice, the ice could recover if the planet cooled again.

In recent years scientists have closely monitored the shrinking area of the Arctic covered by sea ice in warmer summer months, a development that has created new shipping lanes but also raised concerns about humans living in the region and the survival of species such as polar bears.

In the new research, scientists used one of two computer-generated global climate models that accurately reflect the rate of sea-ice loss under current climate conditions, a model so sensitive to warming that it projects the complete loss of September Arctic sea ice by the middle of this century.

However, the model takes several more centuries of warming to completely lose winter sea ice, and doing so required carbon dioxide levels to be gradually raised to a level nearly nine times greater than today. When the model's carbon dioxide levels then were gradually reduced, temperatures slowly came down and the sea ice eventually returned.

"We expected the sea ice to be completely gone in winter at four times the current level of carbon dioxide but we had to raise it by more than eight times," said Cecilia Bitz, a UW associate professor of atmospheric sciences.

"All that carbon dioxide made a very, very warm planet. It was about 6 degrees Celsius (11 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than it is now, which caused the Arctic to be completely free of sea ice in winter."

Bitz and members of her research group are co-authors of a paper about the research that is to be published in Geophysical Research Letters. The lead author is Kyle Armour, a UW graduate student in physics, and other co-authors are Edward Blanchard-Wrigglesworth and Kelly McCusker, UW graduate students in atmospheric sciences, and Ian Eisenman, a postdoctoral researcher from the California Institute of Technology and UW.

In the model, the scientists raised atmospheric carbon dioxide 1 percent each year, which resulted in doubling the levels of the greenhouse gas about every 70 years. The model began with an atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 355 parts per million (in July the actual figure stood at 392 ppm).

In that scenario, it took about 230 years to reach temperatures at which the Earth was free of sea ice during winter. At that point, atmospheric carbon dioxide was greater than 3,100 parts per million.

Then the model's carbon dioxide level was reduced at a rate of 1 percent a year until, eventually, temperatures retreated to closer to today's levels. Bitz noted that the team's carbon dioxide-reduction scenario would require more than just a reduction in emissions that could be achieved by placing limits on the burning of fossil fuels. The carbon dioxide would have to be drawn out of the atmosphere, either naturally or mechanically.

"It is really hard to turn carbon dioxide down in reality like we did in the model. It's just an exercise, but it's a useful one to explore the physics of the system."

While the lack of a "tipping point" could be considered good news, she said, the increasing greenhouse gases leave plenty of room for concern.

"Climate change doesn't have to exhibit exotic phenomena to be dangerous," Bitz said, adding that while sea ice loss can have some positive effects, it is proving harmful to species such as polar bears that live on the ice and to some people who have been forced to relocate entire villages.

"The sea ice cover will continue to shrink so long as the Earth continues to warm," she said. "We don't have to hypothesize dramatic phenomena such as tipping points for this situation to become challenging."

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Davidow Discovery Fund and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

For more information, contact Bitz at 206-543-1339 or bitz@atmos.washington.edu, or Armour at 858-610-3812 or karmour@uw.edu.

The paper is available at
http://www.agu.org/journals/pip/gl/2011GL048739-pip.pdf

Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Colorado River's connection with the ocean was a punctuated affair
16.11.2017 | University of Oregon

nachricht Researchers create largest, longest multiphysics earthquake simulation to date
14.11.2017 | Gauss Centre for Supercomputing

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>