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article imageArctic Ocean becoming more like Atlantic Ocean

By Karen Graham     Apr 8, 2017 in Science
Research shows that the Arctic Ocean is undergoing an astonishingly rapid change as global warming overwhelms the region, causing an "Atlantification" of the pole's waters and loss of sea ice.
According to a new study, scientists claim the Arctic Ocean is undergoing Atlantification, or in other words, it is becoming more like the Atlantic Ocean. This means that Arctic waters on the eastern side of the Eurasian basin are becoming more like the western side, according to Science Magazine.
Igor Polyakov, an oceanographer at the University of Alaska who led the study, says the new research shows that warm waters are flowing into the into the ocean north of Scandinavia and Russia, altering ocean productivity and chemistry, causing the sea ice to recede and "kickstarting" a feedback loop that will eventually make summer sea ice a thing of the past.
Image of Arctic sea ice taken by  NASA Goddard researcher Linette Boisvert of the holes and openings...
Image of Arctic sea ice taken by NASA Goddard researcher Linette Boisvert of the holes and openings in the sea ice cover that expose the warm ocean below where more heat and moisture are put into the atmosphere, helping to warm the Arctic.
NASA - Operation IceBridge
The findings were published in the journal Science on April 6, 2017, entitled "Greater role for Atlantic inflows on sea-ice loss in the Eurasian Basin of the Arctic Ocean."
The findings not only show that warming air is playing a role in altering sea ice formation but the processes playing out deep within the ocean are fundamentally altering the region. Not only will the changes impact people, plants, and animals that call the Arctic home, they could also create more geopolitical tensions as resources become accessible and shipping lanes open up.
A quick look at the Arctic Ocean and the North Polar Basin
First, a quick explanation regarding the Arctic polar region is needed. The Arctic Ocean is almost completely surrounded by Eurasia and North America. Of all the world's five oceans, the Arctic normally has the lowest salinity due to slow evaporation and an inflow of fresh water from rivers and streams.
Distribution of the major water mass in the Arctic Ocean. The section sketches the different water m...
Distribution of the major water mass in the Arctic Ocean. The section sketches the different water masses along a vertical section from Bering Strait over the geographic North Pole to Fram Strait. As the stratification is stable, deeper water masses are more dense than the layers above.
Looking underneath the Arctic Ocean's surface, there is a ridge called the Lomonosov Ridge. You can't see it, but yes, it is there and it plays a major role in the study. The Lomonosov Ridge divides the North Polar Basin into two oceanic basins: the Eurasian Basin, which is between 4,000 and 4,500 m (13,100 and 14,800 ft) deep, and the Amerasian Basin, which is about 4,000 m (13,000 ft) deep.
Is everyone with me on this? So, under normal conditions, the top layer of the ocean (about 50 meters (160 ft)) is of lower salinity and lower temperature than the rest. This is because the salinity effect on density is bigger than the temperature effect. Basically, under normal conditions, sea ice forms in the top layer of water because the temperatures have been relatively stable in the past.
Main bathymetric/topographic features of the Arctic Ocean
Main bathymetric/topographic features of the Arctic Ocean
The changes in the ocean's water layers
Since around 2002, scientists have been using sensors attached to floating buoys to probe the depths of the Arctic Ocean, recording a number of parameters, including temperature and salinity, among others. The researchers found that warm water currents have been creeping up into the cooler water layers and it has been occurring at a fairly rapid rate.
Specifically, in the east Arctic Ocean, this shift is manifesting itself in actually changing the ocean's layers. It seems the warm, higher salinity layer of Atlantic waters have found a way to come to the surface. In other words, Polyakov and his colleagues say the ocean has become gradually less stratified since the 1970s, reports Nature.
Analysis of data shows that in the winter from 2013-2015, the cap separating the deep water and surface water disappeared completely in some locations, further reducing sea ice and fueling the feedback loop that is turning the Eastern Arctic Ocean into basically - The Atlantic Ocean.
More about atlantification, Arctic ocean, Atlantic ocean, Lomonosov ridge, amerasian basin
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