Pocket of warm water imperils major region of Arctic

Warm water currents threaten to melt the entire ice shelf of the Canadian Basin, accelerating long-term ice shrinkage all across the Arctic, researchers warn.
By Rick Docksai | Sep 11, 2018
Canada's far northern glaciers could melt completely for most of the year due to a pocket of warm water that has seeped into the Canadian Basin, a vast Arctic ocean region bordering Canada's far north, according to researchers. The researchers, who are from Yale University and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and published their findings in the journal Science Advances, warn that the resulting sea-ice loss would have severe implications for the whole Arctic if it continues.

"Presently this heat is trapped below the surface layer. Should it be mixed up to the surface, there is enough heat to entirely melt the sea-ice pack that covers this region for most of the year," said Yale geologist Professor Mary-Louise Timmermans, who led the study.

Timmermans and colleagues tracked 30 years' worth of temperature data for the Basin and found that the region's "heat content" had doubled during this period. They traced this warming trend to sea-ice loss further south in the Chukchi Sea. The Chukchi's glaciers had been shrinking, which caused more sunlight to hit more water, and this warming water traveled northward to eventually reach the Basin's glaciers.

That warm water is now accelerating the Basin's ice loss, the researchers concluded. They noted that the whole Arctic is steadily losing ice due to global warming, and that last year saw the lowest-ever measurements for maximum winter sea ice cover across the Arctic and the second-warmest air temperatures on record.

Global warming is hitting the Arctic especially hard, as the Arctic's temperatures are at twice the rate of the whole globe's, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other scientific institutions that have been monitoring global climate over the last few decades.

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