Parts of the Arctic Ocean are quickly becoming more like the Atlantic, researchers warned this week in the journal Science. As warm waters creep north, the ocean is beginning to mix vertically more than it used to, melting sea ice from below. The scientists referred to the process as the “Atlantification” of the Arctic.
The Arctic has experienced record-breaking losses of summer sea ice over the past decade. According to the study, the eastern Eurasian Basin — an area extending from north of Scandinavia across to Russia — has been nearly ice-free in summer since 2011.
Using satellite measurements of sea ice thickness, along with data from buoys deployed in the Arctic Ocean since 2002, an international team of scientists detected a marked shift in the stratification of the Arctic Ocean, with deep warm waters rising to the surface and cutting into the sea ice above. Rising air temperatures further contribute to the melting and cause more vertical ocean mixing as sea ice disappears, according to the study, led by oceanographer Igor Polyakov of the University of Alaska.
The paper shows “a massive shift” in the behavior of the Arctic Ocean over a short time, Finlo Cottier — a physical oceanographer with the Scottish Association for Marine Science, who was not part of the study — told Science: “We’re seeing an ocean basin changing on a generational timescale — or less.”