A major ocean current in the Arctic is faster and more turbulent as a result of rapid sea ice melt, a new study from NASA shows (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-14449-z). The current is part of a delicate Arctic environment that is now flooded with fresh water, an effect of human-caused climate change.
Using 12 years of satellite data, scientists have measured how this circular current, called the Beaufort Gyre, has precariously balanced an influx of unprecedented amounts of cold, fresh water — a change that could alter the currents in the Atlantic Ocean and cool the climate of Western Europe.
The new study, published in Nature Communications, found that the cause of this gain in freshwater concentration is the loss of sea ice in summer and autumn. This decades-long decline of the Arctic’s summertime sea ice cover … has the potential to lead to further ice melt because it mixes layers of cold, fresh water with relatively warm, salt water below. The melting ice could, in turn, lead to changes in how nutrients and organic material in the ocean are mixed, significantly affecting the food chain and wildlife in the Arctic. The results reveal a delicate balance between wind and ocean as the sea ice pack recedes under climate change.
“What this study is showing is that the loss of sea ice has really important impacts on our climate system that we’re only just discovering,” said Petty.