Arctic sea ice is being melted from beneath the surface of the ocean – as well as from above by rising air temperatures, scientists have revealed.
Warm water driven northward by high winds has penetrated deep beneath the Arctic ice sheet, satellite data shows.
Researchers say the ‘archived’ heat – currently trapped below the Arctic – has the potential to melt the region’s entire sea-ice pack should it reach the surface.
It means the Arctic is now being attacked from both sides as rising air temperatures caused by global warming continue to heat its ice sheets from above.
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Satellite data (pictured) shows that ‘archived’ heat is currently trapped below the surface of the Arctic. Warm water driven northward by high winds has penetrated deep beneath the Arctic ice sheet
Study lead author Professor Mary-Louise Timmermans, of Yale University said: ‘We document a striking ocean warming in one of the main basins of the interior Arctic Ocean, the Canadian Basin.’
Professor Timmermans said the upper ocean in the Canadian Basin has seen a two-fold increase in heat content over the past 30 years.
The researchers traced the source to waters hundreds of miles to the south, where reduced sea ice has left the surface ocean more exposed to summer solar warming.
In turn, Arctic winds are driving the warm water north, below the surface waters.
Professor Timmermans added: ‘This means the effects of sea-ice loss are not limited to the ice-free regions themselves, but also lead to increased heat accumulation in the interior of the Arctic Ocean that can have climate effects well beyond the summer season.
‘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.’
Decreasing sea ice is a rising concern for conservationists and environmentalists around the world.
The increased melting as a result of global warming is causing sea levels to rise, which is threatening and jeopardising coastal communities of plants, animals and humans around the world.
Decreasing sea ice is a rising concern for conservationists and environmentalists around the world. The increased melting as a result of global warming is causing sea levels to rise, which is threatening and jeopardising coastal communities of plants, animals and humans (stock)
Greenland’s vast ice sheets are experiencing a similar fate.
The nation is is currently losing around 260 billion tonnes of ice to the ocean every year – and that figure is increasing.
Now, scientists have discovered a new threat to the stability of the ice sheet – a series of temporary lakes that are draining in a ‘chain reaction’.
This is causing freshwater and heat to be carried to the bottom of the ice sheet making it unstable.
Researchers are worried that a collapse of the ice sheet from this draining chain reaction could happen sooner than expected, driving up sea levels.
The findings were published in the journal Science Advances.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF LOWER SEA ICE LEVELS?
The amount of Arctic sea ice peaks around March as winter comes to a close.
NASA recently announced that the maximum amount of sea ice this year was low, following three other record-low measurements taken in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
This can lead to a number of negative effects that impact climate, weather patterns, plant and animal life and indigenous human communities.
The amount of sea ice in the Arctic is declining, and this has dangerous consequences, NASA says
Additionally, the disappearing ice can alter shipping routes and affect coastal erosion and ocean circulation.
NASA researcher Claire Parkinson said: ‘The Arctic sea ice cover continues to be in a decreasing trend and this is connected to the ongoing warming of the Arctic.
‘It’s a two-way street: the warming means less ice is going to form and more ice is going to melt, but, also, because there’s less ice, less of the sun’s incident solar radiation is reflected off, and this contributes to the warming.’