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What is happening to Arctic Sea ice?

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Conservation


Source: TH

 Context: According to a recent study published in the Nature Journal, the loss of Arctic Sea ice is expected to continue in the coming decades, even if carbon emissions are significantly reduced.


What is Arctic Sea ice?

Arctic sea ice refers to the frozen seawater that covers the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas during the colder months. It spreads over one-sixth of the earth’s landmass.



Data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicate that the annual mean of Arctic Sea ice levels has been the lowest since at least 1850, while late summer levels have hit the lowest point in at least 1,000 years. The IPCC predicts that the Arctic will likely experience a practically ice-free September at least once before 2050.


The new findings:

  • The world will see its first ‘sea-ice-free summer’before 2050 (corroborating IPCC findings), possibly in the 2030s.
  • The global emissions will drive temperatures to beyond 4.5°C making the Arctic ice-free by 2081-2100.
  • There is no scenario under which the Arctic Sea ice can be saved in summer.


Factors Causing Rapid Melting of Ice:

Arctic AmplificationIt refers to the phenomenon where the Arctic region experiences more rapid warming compared to the rest of the planet
Albedo Feedback LoopIce has high reflectivity (albedo) compared to land or water surfaces. Decreased ice cover reduces Earth’s surface reflectivity, leading to more absorption of solar radiation and surface warming
Darker Ocean SurfaceBright ice is being replaced by a darker open ocean surface in the Arctic. Less reflection of the sun’s radiation, resulting in additional heating and ice loss
Melting permafrostAs permafrost thaws, it releases stored greenhouse gases, such as methane, which contribute to additional warming.
Atmospheric circulation patternsChanges in atmospheric circulation patterns can transport warm air into the Arctic, further raising temperatures and melting ice.


Impact of Melting Arctic Ice:

Global Climate ChangeRising sea levels, salinity levels, and current and precipitation patterns
Danger to Coastal CommunitiesIncreased risk of coastal flooding, coastal erosion and storm surge for coastal communities
Food SecurityPolar vortexes, heat waves, and unpredictable weather patterns due to ice loss can damage global crop production; Shifting fish species distributions and impacting the Arctic food web
Biodiversity Threat– Melting Arctic ice threatens the biodiversity of the region, impacting species such as polar bears and altering the food web
Emerging Race CourseCompetition among countries like the US, China, and Russia for resource extraction and influence in the Arctic region
Tundra DegradationIncreasingly swampy tundra due to global warming is damaging permafrost
Threat to BiodiversityPolar bears and other Arctic species face challenges due to shrinking ice cover


What can India do?

India should aim to understand the dynamics of Arctic demography and governance, going beyond scientific exploration. With its growing stature in world affairs, India can become the voice of Arctic tribes and raise their issues in global forums. By actively engaging in Arctic affairs, India can leverage this opportunity to shape policies and contribute to discussions concerning the region’s future. Previously India unveiled India’s Arctic Policy document.



The focus should be on establishing a global ocean treaty that addresses the governance of the oceans worldwide, and prioritize safe and sustainable exploration of resources. This treaty should aim to ensure collaboration and cooperation among nations.


Insta links

India and the Arctic


Mains Links:

Why is India taking a keen interest in the resources of the Arctic region? (UPSC 2018)

  The frigid Arctic, which keeps losing ice due to global warming, is one of the batteries feeding the variations in Indian monsoons. Discuss. (250 Words)


Prelims Links:

The term ‘IndARC’, sometimes seen in the news, is the name of (USPC 2015)

(a) an indigenously developed radar system inducted into Indian Defence

(b) India’s satellite to provide services to the countries of the Indian Ocean Rim

(c) a scientific establishment set up by India in the Antarctic region

(d) India’s underwater observatory to scientifically study the Arctic region


Ans: D