Arctic ice influences atmospheric circulation and, hence, weather and climate. Take away the ice and impacts seem sure to follow. There's more warming to come, as well, particularly in the Arctic, which is warming faster than the rest of the globe. Given cumulative greenhouse gas emissions, there's likely at least as much warming to come as has occurred to date—a rise of 0.8 degree Celsius in global average temperatures, most of that in the past 30 years.
On a larger scale, the biggest impact may be the changes in the Arctic's ability to function as a cooling system for the global ocean. Both the Pacific and Atlantic now have warmer waters from the top to the bottom, based on measurements from computerized floats. The Arctic has been functioning as a global air conditioner, losing roughly 350 watts of heat per square meter of open ocean to the atmosphere during the fall storm season as well as the early part of the winter. A warmer Arctic may not be able to shed those greater amounts of heat.
The seasonal loss of all " is one of those tipping points and unfortunately we're going to pass that tipping point," said climate scientist James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, at the same Greenpeace event. "I think we're going to lose that . The good news is: this tipping point is reversible." Should local conditions change, for whatever reason, however, it is possible the ice could regrow.
Regardless of what the Arctic meltdown reveals, what is increasingly clear is that the computer models that scientists rely upon to make predictions have failed to capture the rapid pace of change in the far north. The problem stems from spatial resolutions that are too large (a single grid in a typical computer model encompasses 100 square kilometers) to "see" small but important features such as warm ocean water currents or ice export. And the computing capacity is insufficient to render Arctic cyclones and the role they play in breaking up the ice. "Are the models still too conservative or not?" Maslowski asks of the computer simulations that underpin future predictions. "If this present trend continues, we might be having almost no ice by the end of this decade."