Hawaii & Alaska
Brown University

Arctic 'shorefast' sea ice threatened by climate change

For people who live in the Arctic, sea ice that forms along shorelines is a vital resource that connects isolated communities and provides access to hunting and fishing grounds. A new study by Brown University researchers found that climate change could significantly reduce this "shorefast ice" in communities across Northern Canada and Western Greenland.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, used weather data and near-daily satellite observations of 28 Arctic communities to determine the timing of shorefast ice breakup in each location over the past 19 years. The analysis enabled the researchers to determine the conditions that drive springtime ice breakup. Then they use climate models to predict how that timing might change in each community as the planet warms.

The analysis found that by 2100, communities could see shorefast ice seasons reduced by anywhere from five to 44 days, with the coldest communities in the study seeing the largest reductions. The wide range of potential outcomes was a surprise, the researchers say, and underscores the need to take local factors into account when making policy to prepare for future climate change.

"One of the key takeaways for me is that even though the whole Arctic is going to warm and lose ice, we see very different outcomes from one community to another," said Sarah Cooley, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. student in the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES). "When you combine that wide range of outcomes with the fact that different communities have lots of social, cultural and economic differences, it means that some communities may experience much larger impacts than others."