Norwegian scientists who are studying sea ice in the Arctic say that the evolution from a permanent ice sheet to a newer, thinner "young" ice cover that vanishes in the summer could worsen the effect of climate change.
Researchers from the Norwegian Polar Institute, a government agency, say that the phenomenon hasn't been studied enough, and they've sent a ship, The Lance, on a two-year mission called the Norwegian Young Sea ICE Cruise. As part of the investigation, they allowed the ship to be frozen into the ice near Nordaustlandet, an island in northern Norway, from November 2014 until March 2015, in order to study the ice's movement. You can track the ship's past and current location on this chart.
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U.S. scientists from the National Snow and Ice Center report that as of March, Arctic sea ice, as charted by satellite, had decreased to the lowest level ever observed. Here's an animation that illustrates the change between 1979 and 2014.
But as the Norwegians point out, the change is even more profound. "What this indicates is that over the past 25 years we have not only lost a lot of sea ice cover but also moved from a multiyear sea ice system towards a seasonal system," the institute's website explains.
Already, the Norwegian scientists have observed that the recently-formed "young ice" reflects about 10 percent less solar energy that the older, thicker ice once did. About half of the energy is absorbed by the ice, causing it to melt more quickly. The other half of the energy penetrates into the ocean, potentially raising temperatures in the depths as well. That could exacerbate the rate of climate change.
Additionally, the scientists told BBC News that the evolution to thinner, temporary ice is harming biological diversity in the Arctic.
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"Typically, there's much less life underneath first year ice - multiyear ice is more complex, with more ridging and typically has more animal life," Norwegian biologist Haakon Hop told BBC. "So what has been seen around the Arctic is these animals that live underneath the ice - crustaceans, amphipods and copepods - the biodiversity has gone down and their abundance and biomass have also gone down in the areas that have been measured.
Hop said the decrease in these tiny creatures had ominous implications for the sea birds and marine animals that depend upon them for food.