Will Arctic be ice-free in 2050?

WASHINGTON — The Earth’s northern polar region will be almost ice-free in the warmest months by 2050, sooner than previously estimated, according to a study by two federal government scientists who work on climate change.

The researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used three separate methods to predict the sea-ice trends in the Arctic Ocean, and their estimates for 2020 to 2060 forecast elimination of most ice during the Northern Hemisphere’s warmest months.

The results show “very likely timing for future sea ice loss to the first half of the 21st century, with a possibility of major loss within a decade or two,” according to the paper by James Overland and Muyin Wang, who both study climate change and the Arctic. The paper was reviewed by other scientists and accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters.

“The large observed shifts in the current Arctic environment represent major indicators of regional and global climate change,” they wrote.

The Arctic has experienced rapid loss of thick, multi-year sea ice in the past 12 years, and the amount was less than half the average of 1979-2000 last September, according to the researchers.

The study is one of a series in recent months pointing to immediate impacts of warming temperatures on the Earth. Last year was one of the world’s 10 warmest on record going back to 1880, the 36th consecutive year to exceed the 20th-century average of 57 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a separate NOAA report in January. Last year was the warmest in the U.S. since records began in 1895.

The group Environment America, which is pushing policymakers to take action to curb the release of greenhouse gases, released a report this week that linked Hurricane Sandy, last year’s devastating drought in the Midwest and wildfires in Colorado and other Western states last year to climate change.

A separate NOAA study said Thursday that last year’s drought was a freak occurrence, caused primarily by the lack of moist air streaming northward from the Gulf of Mexico, and not related to “human-induced climate change.”

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