NASA scientists have found that rapid sea ice melt from the Arctic is affecting the flow of a major ocean current.
The melting ice has injected large amounts of cold, fresh water into the Beaufort Gyre, a circular current that keeps the polar environment in equilibrium by storing fresh water near the surface of the Arctic Ocean.
Wind blows the Beaufort Gyre clockwise around the western Arctic Ocean, north of Canada and Alaska. The current then naturally collects fresh water, which floats above the warmer salt water and helps protect the sea ice from melting.
The loss of sea ice in summer and fall has left the Beaufort Gyre more exposed to wind, making the current move faster. Since the 1990s, the current has collected enough fresh water to fill Lake Michigan twice.
Scientists are worried that an expected wind change direction in the Arctic would reverse the current, pulling it counter-clockwise and releasing all the water if accumulated at once.
“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, polar scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
You can read more about the findings here.