Lecture Series

Nye Lecture 2007

Dr. Mark Serreze

Cooperative Institute for Environmental Studies
National Snow and Ice Data Center
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December 12, 2007, 4:00 pm,
Moscone Center South, Room 102

Arctic Climate Change: Where Reality Exceeds Expectations

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It was probably around the year 2000 when I had an epiphany. A realization, after years of sitting on the fence, that the changes unfolding in the Arctic were too persistent, and too coherent among different parts of the system, to be simply dismissed as natural climate fluctuations. Seven years have passed, and despite imprints of natural variability , the Arctic has continued along a warming path. The emerging surprise is the rapidity of change. In many ways, it seems that reality has exceeded expectations, and that our vision of the Arctic’s future is already upon us. The most visually striking evidence of rapid change is the Arctic’s shrinking sea ice cover. While climate models tell us that sea ice extent should already be declining in response to greenhouse gas loading, observed trends are much steeper – we are perhaps 30 years ahead of schedule. Climate models also tell us that largely as a result of sea ice loss, Arctic warming will be outsized compared to the rest of the northern hemisphere. However, this so-called Arctic Amplification is already here. The signal appears to be firm, and growing in strength. In turn, the Greenland ice sheet seems to be stirring in ways quite unexpected ten years ago, with disturbing implications for sea level rise. Why is the Arctic changing so rapidly? What are the missing pieces of the puzzle? Given where we stand today, might we realize a seasonally ice free Arctic Ocean as soon as 30 years from now? This Nye lecture will attempt to shed some light on these issues.