APR 11, 2019 12:10 PM PDT

Young Sea Ice Melting Too Soon

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

Recent research has revealed a new development that may take us closer to an ice-free Arctic summer. Scientists consider the Russian marginal seas of the Arctic ocean the “nursery of Arctic sea ice.” In the winter, shallow seas in this region experience incredibly low air temperatures—to negative 40 degrees Celsius— and strong offshore winds, which combine to push young ice out to sea. The young ice eventually catches a current known as the Transpolar Drift and is transported across the central Arctic ocean. After a few years, it reaches the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard where it will finally melt.

This sea ice transport is essential for several reasons. It’s a transportation device for climate-related gases, macro-nutrient, iron, organic matter, sediments, and pollutants. Sea ice is also vital habitat for plants and animals that live on it or use it as transport. 

However, a study from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) released last week in Scientific Reports discovered that melting sea ice is disrupting the Transpolar Drift. It's estimated that twenty years ago, nearly 50% of the new ice from Russia’s marginal seas traveled across the Arctic. The new study revealed that 80% of sea ice melts before it can even reach the Central Arctic.

Image by JayMantri from Pixabay

In addition, the surviving 20% of ice that completes the journey is not as thick as it used to be. In a statement released by AWI, sea-ice physicist Dr. Thomas Krumpen stated that “the ice now leaving the Arctic through the Fram Strait is, on average, 30 percent thinner than it was 15 years ago.” This is due to rising winter temperatures and an earlier melting season. Furthermore, the ice is forming farther north meaning it has less time to drift across the Arctic Ocean and grow into thicker pack ice. Thinner sea ice floes contain fewer sediments, nutrients, and algae.

This loss of young sea ice has cascading impacts on the climate and arctic ecosystems. Sea ice loss leads to a phenomenon known as the albedo effect—less ice coverage means the ocean will absorb more heat energy from the sun, raising temperatures. A decrease in primary production will impact Arctic ecosystems because of declining amounts of nutrients, bacteria, and algae being transported by sea ice. Although, conversely less ice and thinner ice may enhance primary production due to an increase in light availability. 

The AWI research team will expand upon these finding during their next expedition, beginning this September.

Sources: AWI, Scientific American

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
JAN 22, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 22, 2020
Invasive grasses act as fire starters
We know that invasive species cause myriad problems in ecosystems including predator-prey relations, pest management, habitat degradation, etc. But new res...
JAN 22, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 22, 2020
Canadians Face Increased Risk of Mortality Due to Air Pollution
Air pollution is associated with an increased risk of death in Canada—even when air pollution is below national and international air quality guideli...
JAN 22, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 22, 2020
Here we go again: record level carbon emissions in 2019
A report from researchers collaborating to produce the annual Global Carbon Budget has found that 2019 will break record levels of carbon emissions…...
JAN 22, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 22, 2020
Brave Ant Explorers Engage a Termite Colony
Ants and termites have known their place as bitter rivals in the animal kingdom for more than 150 million years. Even today, as populations peak at some of...
JAN 22, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 22, 2020
Anthills Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg
At first glance, an anthill looks like a small pile of sand on the Earth with a tiny hole in the top that ants crawl into to evade danger, but they’r...
JAN 22, 2020
Plants & Animals
JAN 22, 2020
Baby Penguins Are Often Bullied to Death by Adults
Most people envision penguins as fun, happy-go-lucky birds residing in the Earth’s chilly polar regions, but that’s not always the case. In fac...
Loading Comments...