The water flowing from the Arctic Ocean is currently more than three times as warm as the Atlantic, and it is flowing to a much warmer Gulf of Alaska.
The study, “Rising temperature, warm water entering the North Atlantic,” was published in Nature Climate Change today. Researchers used air flow models to show that the meltwater flowing from Greenland to the Gulf of Alaska is rising twice as fast as the Greenland air flow into the North Atlantic.
Since the 1970s, Arctic sea ice has fallen by nearly a quarter because of a lack of warm water; the new research suggests that this warming trend is even more dramatic, and is largely driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases. The researchers suggested that this process may accelerate melting of the Greenland ice sheet and other ice shelves this century.
The researchers used numerical climate simulations of Greenland’s ice sheet from satellites and climate models to study the effect that the rate of meltwater release will have on the ice sheet surface. The sea ice is already relatively thin, so melting would be more rapid. With the amount of meltwater in the ocean expected to increase, melting of the ice shelf and the grounding line, the point where an ice shelf lands on the ocean bottom, could accelerate quickly. The study notes that, “there was a significant warming of the ice surface in response to rapid releases of meltwater from the ice sheet during the 1990s and early 2000s.”
The study’s leads, researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, wrote today, “This is the first global temperature-related study to show that the Greenland ice sheet response to a climate change event is driven primarily by local response to this observed warm water influx.”