Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Study Provides First-ever Look At Combined Causes Of North Atlantic And Arctic Ocean Freshening

Date:
August 25, 2006
Source:
Marine Biological Laboratory
Summary:
A new analysis of 50 years of changes in freshwater inputs to the Arctic Ocean and North Atlantic may help shed light on what's behind the recently observed freshening of the North Atlantic Ocean. In a report, published in the August 25, 2006 issue of the journal, Science, MBL (Marine Biological Laboratory) senior scientist Bruce J. Peterson and his colleagues describe a first-of-its-kind effort to create a big-picture view of hydrologic trends in the Arctic.

Melt-water streams along the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet. The rate of melting has increased measurably in recent decades.
Credit: Photo : John Hobbie, MBL Ecosystems Center

A new analysis of 50 years of changes in freshwater inputs to the Arctic Ocean and North Atlantic may help shed light on what's behind the recently observed freshening of the North Atlantic Ocean. In a report, published in the August 25, 2006 issue of the journal, Science, MBL (Marine Biological Laboratory) senior scientist Bruce J. Peterson and his colleagues describe a first-of-its-kind effort to create a big-picture view of hydrologic trends in the Arctic. Their analysis reveals that freshwater increases from Arctic Ocean sources appear to be highly linked to a fresher North Atlantic.

"The high-latitude freshwater cycle is one of the most sensitive barometers of the impact of changes in climate and broad-scale atmospheric dynamics because of the polar amplification of the global warming signal," says Peterson. "It's easiest to measure these changes in the Arctic and the better we understand this system, the sooner we will know what is happening to the global hydrologic cycle."

The multi-disciplinary team of scientists led by Peterson calculated annual and cumulative freshwater input anomalies (deviations from expected levels) from net precipitation on the ocean surface, river discharge, net attrition of glaciers, and Arctic Ocean sea ice melt and export for the latter half of the 20th century. The scientists compared the fluxes to measured rates of freshwater accumulation in the North Atlantic during the same time period.

Their analysis showed that increasing river discharge and excess net precipitation on the ocean contributed the most freshwater (~20,000 cubic kilometers) to the Arctic and high-latitude North Atlantic. Sea ice reduction provided another ~15,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater, followed by ~2,000 cubic kilometers from melting glaciers. Together, the sum of anomalous inputs from all of the freshwater sources analyzed matched the amount and rate at which fresh water accumulated in the North Atlantic during much of the period from 1965 through 1995.

"This synthesis allows us to judge which freshwater sources are the largest, but more importantly shows how the significance of different sources have changed over the past decades and what has caused the changes," says Peterson. "It prompts us to realize that the relative importance of different sources will change in future decades. Creating a big-picture or synoptic view of the changes in various components of the high-latitude freshwater cycle puts the parts in a perspective where we can judge their individual and collective impact on ocean freshening and circulation."

In recent years, much attention has been given to the observed freshening of Arctic Ocean and North Atlantic and the potential impacts it may have on the earth's climate. Scientists contend that a significant increase of freshwater flow to the Arctic Ocean could slow or halt the Atlantic Deep Water formation, a driving factor behind the great "conveyor belt" current that is responsible for redistributing salt and thermal energy around the globe, influencing the planet's climate. One of the potential effects of altered global ocean circulation could be a cooling of Northern Europe within this century.

The team's comparison of freshwater sources and ocean sink records revealed that over the last half century changes in freshwater inputs and ocean storage occurred not only in conjunction with one another, but in synchrony with rising air temperatures and an amplifying North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), a climatic phenomenon that has strong impacts on weather and climate in the North Atlantic region and surrounding continents, and the associated Northern Annular Mode (NAM) index.

Peterson and his colleagues contend that the interplay between the NAO and NAM, and continued rising temperatures from global greenhouse warming, will likely determine whether the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans will continue to freshen. But the scientists caution that the difficultly in predicting fluctuations in atmospheric circulation makes it impossible to know where we might be headed.

"Atmospheric modes of circulation such as the NAO and NAM exert a great deal of control on net precipitation in the ocean and even on regional temperatures, and hence ice melt as well," says Peterson. "But what drives the NAO is the $64,000 question. Our inability to predict trends in the NAO/NAM means that, even if we could predict global warming very well, a large degree of uncertainty will remain in any forecasts of the decadal-centennial trajectories of the Arctic freshwater balance."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Marine Biological Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Marine Biological Laboratory. "Study Provides First-ever Look At Combined Causes Of North Atlantic And Arctic Ocean Freshening." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 August 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060824222330.htm>.
Marine Biological Laboratory. (2006, August 25). Study Provides First-ever Look At Combined Causes Of North Atlantic And Arctic Ocean Freshening. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060824222330.htm
Marine Biological Laboratory. "Study Provides First-ever Look At Combined Causes Of North Atlantic And Arctic Ocean Freshening." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060824222330.htm (accessed April 19, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) Operators of recreational businesses on western reservoirs worry that ongoing drought concerns will keep boaters and other visitors from flocking to the popular summer attractions. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ark. Man Finds 6-Carat Diamond At State Park

Ark. Man Finds 6-Carat Diamond At State Park

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) An Arkansas man has found a nearly 6.2-carat diamond, which he dubbed "The Limitless Diamond," at the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest

Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) At least six Nepalese guides are dead after an avalanche swept the slopes of Mount Everest along a route used to climb the world's highest peak. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins