With the Arctic Ocean ice melting rapidly — in fact, this summer it's already at the second-lowest level on record, and still shrinking — it's time for us to start imagining what life will be like in the Arctic Circle when all the ice is gone. Some scientists predict that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free as soon as September, but more likely it will be ice-free all summer by 2030 or 2050. What will that look like? You can see an ice-free Arctic Ocean above. And we've also got a gallery of images showing you the Arctic Ocean as it was, as it is, and as it will be.
Here's the old-school Arctic Ocean, the way it looked before the 2000s when things started melting.
(Satellite views via NASA/RADARSAT/Alaska Synthetic Aperture Radar Facility.)
Here's a model predicting almost complete ice melt by 2050.
And you've probably seen this image before. It's the most commonly-used infographic showing the extreme ice melting that's taken place over the past decade. The ice cap has shrunk nearly 40 percent in summers during that time, and will probably shrink more than that before this year's melting season is over in late September.
About five years ago, some scientists argued that heavy cloud cover over the Arctic would protect the ice from melting. Here is a photograph of those clouds from 2003. Sadly, the swirly clouds didn't prevent melting, and the biggest melts came in 2005 and 2007.
A big worry for environmental scientists right now is the melting of the ice sheet on Greenland, which you can see illustrated here. Obviously, this huge ice sheet melting will raise water levels, but it will also have an effect you might not have realized: When ice melts and then refreezes, it can absorb up to four times more sunlight, and therefore will melt more easily next season and create a magnified melting effect.