Growing Underwater Heat Blob Is Speeding Demise of Arctic Sea Ice
Even without the blob, ice levels were already catastrophically low.
"There can be little doubt that the vast majority of Earth's ice loss is a direct consequence of climate warming," UK scientists from Leeds and Edinburgh universities and University College London researching the massive ice loss wrote in their review paper, The Guardian reported.
One study from the University of Copenhagen determined that Arctic sea ice is melting faster than climate models had predicted because they use a "slow and steady" temperature increase model for the Arctic, but warming is actually happening at a more rapid pace, reported Barron's. The Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the globe, a different study found, and this is speeding sea ice loss.
"We have been clearly underestimating the rate of temperature increases in the atmosphere nearest to the sea level, which has ultimately caused sea ice to disappear faster than we had anticipated," University of Copenhagen professor and researcher Jens Hesselbjerg Christensen told Barron's.
The last time the Arctic Ocean saw such unusually high temperatures was during the previous ice age, Barron's reported. Christensen warned that scientists had yet to realize the significance of this steep temperature rise, Futurity reported.
"We have looked at the climate models analyzed and assessed by the UN Climate Panel. Only those models based on the worst-case scenario, with the highest carbon dioxide emissions, come close to what our temperature measurements show over the past 40 years, from 1979 to today," Christensen told Futurity.
A third set of researchers also recently determined that Greenland's ice sheet has reached the "point of no return," and that it would continue to shrink even if global warming were to end today, Barron's reported.
None of this bodes well for the sea ice. September is when the ice usually reaches its annual minimum, and this year's extent is scheduled to be among the lowest on record, Science Magazine reported. The sum of this evidence has led some scientists to posture a total loss of Arctic sea ice by 2035.
"It's definitely a when, not an if," Alek Petty, a polar scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told Science Magazine.
Unfortunately, many of these dire predictions do not take into account what's happening below the water's surface, where a heat blob is melting sea ice from below as the warmer climate assails it from above.
The Arctic Ocean enjoys an "unusual temperature inversion" where deeper water is warmer than surface waters, according to Science Magazine. Chilly winter air and buoyant, cold freshwater coming off the Eurasian continent help to keep the ice's surface cold and the underside from melting under the sun, Science Magazine explained.
The warmer, saltier Atlantic Ocean water congregates in a deep heat blob that was presumed "safely separated" from the sea ice, but a recent study published in the Journal of Climate found that the blob is growing, migrating vertically, and melting the ice from below.
The study found that as brighter, reflective sea ice melts, darker water flows in to take its place. That water then absorbs more heat and sinks down to the blob, where it causes the blob to grow and warm even further.
Measurements indicated that the blob, usually found 150 meters below the sea ice or deeper, has moved up to within 80 meters of the surface. Water turbulence can then cause some of that blob heat to reach the sea ice and melt it, Igor Polyakov, an oceanographer at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, told Science Magazine.
"This heat has become, regionally, the key forcing for sea ice decay," Polyakov said.
Scientists now think the blob has enough heat to melt the Arctic's ice three to four times over, and estimate that it could "devour the ice from below" if the blob ever reaches the surface sea ice, Science Magazine reported.
The process is called "Atlantification," and has already been observed in the Barents Sea north of Norway, where warm Atlantic waters have risen up to melt sea ice from below, even during cold winter months, according to Science Magazine and a study published in Nature Climate Change. Scientists expect Atlantification to continue to decimate sea ice throughout the Arctic as the heat blob grows and rises.
The downstream effect of this massive melt would be felt in ways that are still unknown. Previous studies have linked Arctic ice loss to a number of different global phenomena, such as changing ocean currents and extreme weather in California.
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Hundreds of endangered sea turtles were stranded on beaches after suffering "cold stunning" in the waters off Cape Cod, Mass. Local rescuers and wildlife rehabilitators stabilized the turtles at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and National Marine Life Center and began treatment. Many of the sea turtles were transported by land or air to partner facilities around the Eastern Seaboard for longer-term care to make room for more incoming, cold-stunned animals.
Rehabilitators at The Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys assess critically endangered, cold-stunned Kemp's ridley sea turtles flown in after rescue in New England. The Turtle Hospital<p>NEAQ and local rescuers begin seeing turtles every fall when water temperatures drop to that 50 degrees F threshold, and typically expect to find them into early January. After that, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/sea-turtle-cape-cod-weather-2621527394.html" target="_self">temperatures are so cold that any animals found are usually no longer alive</a>.</p><p>Merigo estimated that this year's cold season "looks very busy" and noted that local rescue efforts had already surpassed 400 turtles.</p><p>"It is a lot of animals. They're still coming in," she told EcoWatch as she surveyed 39 rescued turtles that day and 20 the day prior. "So far, this is a huge year."</p><p>At NEAQ, the turtles are gradually warmed up about five to 10 degrees F a day. More aggressive warming can cause serious damage and the turtle might not survive, Merigo said. Emergency treatments also include providing replacement fluids, balancing electrolytes and addressing pneumonia. Assessments take place for other serious problems too, such as shell or limb fractures, frostbite, emaciation and eye damage.<span></span></p><p>As local aquariums don't have the capacity to care for all the injured turtles, a group of private pilots called <a href="https://www.turtlesflytoo.org/" target="_blank">"Turtles Fly Too"</a> donated planes, fuel and time to transport some to various partner facilities around the country. Other turtles were driven to closer care facilities.</p><p>"We have a huge network of really great partners working with us, so if we can spread out the care, we can give better care to all the animals," Merigo said.</p><p>The 40 Kemp's ridley sea turtles recovering in The Turtle Hospital will continue to be treated and rehabilitated anywhere from 30 days to a year, depending on the severity of injuries, Zirkelbach said.</p><p>The turtle expert noted that while she's treated cold-stunned turtles from the north before, the newest arrivals were the most cold-stunned Kemp's ridleys ever received at one time.</p>
After rescue, cold-stunned sea turtles received immediate emergency care and assessments at the New England Aquarium. Caitlin Cunningham / New England Aquarium<p>In the past decade, the Gulf of Maine, which spans from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, has warmed 99 percent faster than the rest of the ocean, Zirkelbach said. The warm water encourages turtles that migrate north along the Gulf Stream in warmer months to stay in the bay longer.</p><p>"Turtles that fail to migrate south get stuck in the unique horseshoe-shaped topography of the Cape Cod peninsula, and when temperatures drop, the bay becomes a death trap," she added.</p><p>Before ocean temperatures warmed, the waters of Maine were too cold for many of these sea turtles, Merigo echoed. Now, with warming sea surface temperatures, Maine can reach the high 70s to low 80s, which is "perfect turtle temperature," she said. The potential for more turtles getting trapped in the bay and then cold-stunned is nerve-racking for Merigo.</p><p>In addition to shifting habitats as waters warm, warming global temperatures also disrupt natural gender balance in sea turtles, Merigo warned. Gender is determined by the temperature of eggs in nests, and as the planet warms, it will result in all females at some point, she said.</p><p>"The turtles we work with are all endangered and threatened," Merigo said. "For sea turtles in general, the future is a little grim. Climate change is real; it does impact them."</p>
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