A Warm Water Pocket under the Arctic may Melt Significant Ice


A new study found a pocket of warm water under the surface of the Canada Basin. Upon ascending, it would melt a significant part of the region’s sea ice pack.

The study, co-authored by researchers from Yale University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, has analyzed temperatures in the Canada Basin for the last 30 years. The basin is situated north of Alaska between parts of Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

It was previously known that the western Arctic features a warm layer of water at about 50 meters below the surface. Since warm water is lighter than cold water, it will naturally tend to float towards the surface. That is not the case in the basin, as the water is insulated and it contains a high quantity of salt, which keeps it down, with the cold fresh water on top, close to the sea ice.

Over the past 30 years, the amount of heat in the warm layer has doubled. It is assumed that the warm water originates from the edges of the basin, where every summer sea ice melts and retreats, exposing a large quantity of water to the Sun. After the water heats up, it is pushed under the surface layer and into the Arctic Ocean by powerful clockwise winds.

The Arctic was known to be warmer than other oceans, were deep layers are colder, but the continuous rise of the heat level in the warm layer was a surprise for researchers.

According to one of the researchers, the warming layer may have a dramatic impact when it will come up, as it may heat up the ice on top.  The ice is safe for now, as the amount of heat transferred from the warm water to the colder one above is relatively reduced. In order to make a real impact, wind would have to mix the two waters, which is unlikely since wind is directly influenced by the sea ice.

The long-term effects of the phenomenon will be explored in order to further observe and anticipate what will happen.


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