Skip to content


"Terminal Diagnosis for Arctic Sea Ice": State of the Cryosphere Report 2022

7 November 2022

The IPCC has concluded that total Arctic summer sea ice loss is now inevitable, likely before 2050.
Photograph of glacier The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change - has concluded that total Arctic summer sea ice loss is now inevitable, likely before 2050.

This is one of many sobering conclusions of the 2022 State of the Cryosphere Report, released on November 7 at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

In recognition of this “terminal diagnosis” for multi-year Arctic sea ice, the “totem” representing this portion of global cryosphere – Earth’s snow and ice regions – will be toppling on its side at the COP27 Cryosphere Pavilion. A ceremony recognizing this “toppled totem” is due to take place, with the participation of Arctic Youth, Indigenous people and sea ice experts.

The first State of the Cryosphere Report, launched at COP26, described in detail the implications of a lack of action on emissions reductions – including potential collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, vanishing glaciers outside the polar regions, and unstoppable rates of global sea-level rise. The devastating impacts are largely far from cryosphere regions, in coastal cities and well downstream of glaciers and snow.

Just one year on, the 2022 Report released at COP27 holds even harsher news.

This past year saw March rains on East Antarctica, with temperatures 40°C above normal; a spike in Greenland surface melt for the first time ever in September; loss of over 5% of glacier ice in the Alps this past summer; and the first documented rise in methane release due to global warming from a permafrost monitoring site.

It also saw greater shell damage in parts of the Arctic Ocean, a clear sign of growing acidification. All of these impacts are irreversible on human timescales.

The 2022 Report emphasizes the IPCC Sixth Assessment’s alarming conclusion that even with very low emissions, summer loss of Arctic sea ice will occur at least once, likely before 2050. The ceremony at the Cryosphere Pavilion nevertheless emphasizes that although we cannot now prevent future loss of this key cryosphere dynamic, emission reductions consistent with the 1.5°C Paris limit will drastically decrease the risk of passing ever more damaging cryosphere thresholds.

Plymouth Marine Laboratory’s Dr Helen Findlay, who was among the report reviewers and is currently in Egypt for COP27 said, “This is a stark wake-up call on the irreversible damage our climate and natural environment is suffering due to a lack of action on emissions. We are now past the point of no return on the loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic – urgent steps must now be taken to ensure further catastrophe is avoided, for example, crossing chemical thresholds related to ocean acidification.”

Access the full report here >>

Robbie Mallett a University College London and Arctic sea ice researcher who will be speaking at the ceremony said, “This occurrence lies outside modern human experience: the Arctic Ocean has not been ice-free for at least 8,000 years; and probably, not for 125,000 years. The impacts and feedbacks will be global, and dangerously unpredictable.”

 “The two lowest emissions pathways or scenarios are the only ones with any possibility of preventing these catastrophic events that cannot be reversed in anything less than centuries, to tens of thousands of years. A decision to exceed these limits is a de facto decision to make this happen” says Julie Brigham-Grette, University of Massachusetts Amherst and former chair of the U.S- Polar Research Board.

“Our planet’s melting ice pays no attention to climate pledges and NDCs. It responds only to the level of CO2 and warming in the atmosphere, which shows no sign of pausing. Until our CO2 rise slows, halts and begins to decrease, the ice will continue to respond as it always has: to the only number that really matters.” Pam Pearson, Director, International Cryosphere Climate Initiative.
About the State of the Cryosphere Report
The State of the Cryosphere Report is released annually just before each UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP), and takes the pulse of the cryosphere and its response to climate change to inform negotiators and governments. It focuses on five key cryosphere dynamics with the most serious global impacts on people and ecosystems: mountain glaciers and snow, ice sheets/sea level rise, permafrost, polar oceans, and sea ice. The 2022 Report, the second in the series, was reviewed and supported by more than 60 leading cryosphere scientists, many of them IPCC authors. It emphasizes the growing scale and frequency this past year of extreme cryosphere events, and their spreading consequences in the face of persistent year-on-year rises in CO2 concentrations, climate pledges notwithstanding.

COP27 runs from 6-18 November, 2022 in Sharm El-Sheikh. For information on PML's events and activities visit: 
Share this story: