Los Angeles, February 9
Researchers have unravelled how an ocean water current, which plays a key role in keeping Western Europe warm, could be altered by an influx of unprecedented amounts of cold, fresh water from melting ice in the Arctic.
According to the scientists, including those from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US, an seawater current called the Beaufort Gyre keeps the polar environment in balance by storing fresh water near the surface of the Arctic ocean.
Wind blows the gyre in a clockwise direction around the western Arctic Ocean, north of Canada, where it naturally collects fresh water from the melting of glaciers, and river runoff, the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, noted.
The researchers said this fresh water is important in the Arctic since it floats above the warmer, salty water, and helps protect the sea ice from melting -- in turn regulating the Earth's climate.
As the fresh water is slowly released by the gyre into the Atlantic Ocean over a period of decades, it allows the Atlantic Ocean currents to carry it away in small amounts.
However, since the 1990s, the researchers said, the gyre has accumulated a large amount of fresh water -- 8,000 cubic kilometres — or almost twice the volume of Lake Michigan in the US.
According to the new study, the cause of this gain in freshwater concentration is the loss of sea ice in summer and autumn.
"If the Beaufort Gyre were to release the excess fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean, it could potentially slow down its circulation. And that would have hemisphere-wide implications for the climate, especially in Western Europe," said Tom Armitage, lead author of the study from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The release of fresh water from the Arctic Ocean to the North Atlantic can change the density of surface waters, the study warned. — PTI
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