Peter Wadhams has spent his career in the Arctic, making more than 50 trips there, some in submarines under the polar ice. He is credited with being one of the first scientists to show that the thick icecap that once covered the Arctic ocean was beginning to thin and shrink. He was director of the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge from 1987 to 1992 and professor of ocean physics at Cambridge since 2001. His book, A Farewell to Ice, tells the story of his unravelling of this alarming trend and describes what the consequences for our planet will be if Arctic ice continues to disappear at its current rate.
You have said on several occasions that summer Arctic sea ice would disappear by the middle of this decade. It hasn’t. Are you being alarmist?
No. There is a clear trend down to zero for summer cover. However, each year chance events can give a boost to ice cover or take some away. The overall trend is a very strong downward one, however. Most people expect this year will see a record low in the Arctic’s summer sea-ice cover. Next year or the year after that, I think it will be free of ice in summer and by that I mean the central Arctic will be ice-free. You will be able to cross over the north pole by ship. There will still be about a million square kilometres of ice in the Arctic in summer but it will be packed into various nooks and crannies along the Northwest Passage and along bits of the Canadian coastline. Ice-free means the central basin of the Arctic will be ice-free and I think that that is going to happen in summer 2017 or 2018.