Quantcast

Warm Waters Under Arctic Ice a 'Ticking Time Bomb'

Climate
Sea ice atop the Arctic Ocean. NASA

Scientists warn that a warm layer of salty ocean water accumulating 50 meters beneath the Arctic's Canadian Basin could potentially melt the region's sea-ice pack for much of the year if it reaches the surface.

The findings were published Thursday in the journal Science Advances by researchers from Yale University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.


This "archived" heat is currently trapped under a surface layer of colder freshwater, but if the two layers mix, "there is enough heat to entirely melt the sea-ice pack that covers this region for most of the year," lead author Mary-Louise Timmermans, a professor of geology and geophysics at Yale University, told YaleNews.

The researchers discovered that the heat content of the warm, salty layer doubled from 200 to 400 million joules per square meter in the past 30 years.

The warming layer is "a ticking time bomb," the study's co-author John Toole of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution told CBC.

"That heat isn't going to go away," he added. "Eventually ... it's going have to come up to the surface and it's going to impact the ice."

Scientists believe the warm water is coming from the Chukchi Sea in the south, where ice cover has been rapidly melting and being exposed to the summer sun. Strong northerly winds are driving these warm waters north and flowing beneath the Canadian Basin.

The Canadian Basin is a major basin of the Arctic Ocean that's fed by waters from the North Chukchi Sea, just north of the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia.Mikenorton / Wikimedia Commons

"This means the effects of sea-ice loss are not limited to the ice-free regions themselves, but also lead to increased heat accumulation in the interior of the Arctic Ocean that can have climate effects well beyond the summer season," Timmermans explained.

The Arctic is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the globe due to climate change. Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that the Arctic's thickest and oldest sea ice—also known as "the last ice area"—is breaking up for the first time on record. The breakage has opened up waters north of Greenland that are normally frozen-solid even in the peak of summer, a phenomenon that has been described as "scary."

Ships have even begun to traverse across the melting Arctic. Such routes have been historically impossible or prohibitively expensive to cross.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Eating healthy can help you lose weight and have more energy.

Read More Show Less
arinahabich / Stock / Getty Images

By Sydney Swanson

With April hopping along and Easter just around the corner, it's time for dyeing eggs (and inadvertently, dyeing hands.) It's easy to grab an egg-dyeing kit at the local supermarket or drug store, but those dye ingredients are not pretty.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Aerial of farmland and mountains near Seaward Kaikoura Range in New Zealand. David Wall Photo / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images Plus

By Jordan Davidson

New Zealand's pristine image as a haven of untouched forests and landscapes was tarnished this week by a brand new government report. The Environment Aotearoa 2019 painted a bleak image of the island nation's environment and its future prospects.

Read More Show Less
heshphoto / Image Source / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Eating even "moderate" amounts of red and processed meat increases the risk of colon cancer, according to a new study of nearly half a million adults in the United Kingdom.

Read More Show Less
The view from the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, Michigan. Ken Lund / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Sierra Searcy

This week, progressive Democrats and youth advocates are launching a nationwide tour to win support for the Green New Deal. Though popular, the ambitious plan to tackle climate change has struggled to earn the endorsement of centrist Democrats in Rust Belt states like Michigan, the second stop on the tour.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Mike Taube / Getty Images

If you are looking for something to do this Easter weekend, why not visit your nearest national park? All sites run by the National Park Service (NPS) will be free Saturday, April 20 as this year's National Park Week kicks off, USA Today reported.

Read More Show Less
A new EPA rule on asbestos does not say anything about the asbestos currently in the environment. Bob Allen / Getty Images

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed a new rule on asbestos Wednesday that it says will "close the door" on new, unapproved uses. But public health advocates warn the rule could actually open the door to increased use of the carcinogenic fibrous material.

Read More Show Less
A mountain woodland caribou bull in the Muskwa-Kechika Wilderness area in northern British Columbia, Canada. John E Marriott / All Canada Photos / Getty Images

It's heartening, in the midst of the human-caused sixth mass extinction, to find good wildlife recovery news. As plant and animal species disappear faster than they have for millions of years, Russia's Siberian, or Amur, tigers are making a comeback. After falling to a low of just a few dozen in the mid-20th century, the tigers now number around 500, with close to 100 cubs — thanks to conservation measures that include habitat restoration and an illegal hunting crackdown.

Read More Show Less