Natural swings in the Arctic climate have contributed to more than half of all ice melt in the North Pole, according to a study published Monday.
The study indicates that an ice-free Arctic could be delayed if nature swings back to a cooler mode. Researchers hedged their bets in the study, stating that human actions would still contribute to sea ice melt in the area.
Natural variation in weather patterns “may be responsible for about 30–50 percent of the overall decline in September sea ice since 1979,” the researchers wrote in Nature Climate Change.
The research dovetails nicely with recent studies showing that ice in the Southern hemisphere has not receded much in more than a generation.
Antarctic sea ice, for instance, has barely changed over the last 100 years, according to a study conducted in November. It compared current climate data to that compiled by researchers in 1917.
They estimated sea ice in the South Pole ranged from 3.3 and 4.3 million square miles and continued to grow throughout the 1950s.
Media outlets are still sounding a clarion call for sea lions and polar bears, the North Pole’s primary occupants, despite studies propping up the natural variation position.
Polar bears are migrating away from their traditional hunting grounds and toward areas in Canada, Russia, and Alaska, because sea ice is melting at a record pace, The NYTimes wrote in December.
They may seem healthy and at ease in their environments, the paper noted at the time, but those that travel inland “are climate refugees, on land because the sea ice they rely on for hunting seals is receding.”
Even fears about the dwindling of polar bear populations appear to be overblown. The Scientific Working Group found in February that somewhere between 22,633 to 32,257 bears are still thriving in the Arctic. Their numbers saw a sharp increase from 2005, when scientists estimated that only 20,000 to 25,000 bears remained.
The Nature Climate study, for its part, suggests that a decades-long natural warming of the Arctic might be tied to variable shifts as far south as the tropical Pacific Ocean.
“If this natural mode would stop or reverse in the near future, we would see a slow-down of the recent fast melting trend, or even a recovery of sea ice,” said lead author Qinghua Ding, of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
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