A group of scientists from the Earth Institute at Columbia University has conducted a new study. According to the data, one of the key areas of the Arctic Ocean may soon collapse. This threatens with extinction for the species living in the region.

Due to climate warming, summer sea ice in the Arctic is rapidly shrinking. Now its area is less than half of what it existed in the early 1980s. In a new study, scientists studied a region of 1 million km² north of Greenland and the coast of the Canadian archipelago. The sea ice in this area was the thickest and therefore the most stable all year round.

It turned out that like both scenarios – optimistic and pessimistic – by 2050 in the summer the ice in this region will drastically deplete. If countries cut carbon emissions in 30 years, some of the summer ice may remain. However, under a pessimistic scenario, the greenhouse effect will intensify, it will disappear by 2100 along with the animals that inhabit the region (seals and polar bears). The research is published by Earth’s Future magazine.

Scientists have speculated on the fate of Arctic sea ice for decades. Around 2009, researchers first voiced the term “Last Ice Zone”.

In winter, most of the surface of the Arctic Ocean freezes over. The ice can be up to a meter thick every winter. And if it survives one or several summer months, it grows up to several meters. In summer, the ice melts (partially), and separate areas of open water appear. This helps winds and currents carry it over long distances. Each year, some of the ice is thrown into the North Atlantic through the straits between Greenland and Norway. But most of it ends up in the farthest northern coasts of the Arctic. Here, repeated build-ups of ice can create structures up to 10 meters thick.

The result is a rich marine ecosystem that is highly dependent on climate. Photosynthetic diatoms bloom along the edges and bottom of the perennial ice and form thick mats over time. They are eaten by tiny animals that are food for fish, then the food chain continues with seals and ends with polar bears. Among other things, the thick, uneven terrain provides dens for seals and polar bears to hibernate and raise offspring. Also, ice protects animals from people.