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IARC scientists document warm water surging into Arctic

September 27, 2006

Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center this fall documented that recent surges of warm water from the North Atlantic Ocean continue to pulse into the Arctic Ocean and are moving toward Alaska and the Canadian Basin.

Scientists made the observations this fall during an oceanographic cruise aboard the Russian icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn as part of the Nansen and Amundsen Basins Observational Systems program. Information gathered by the NABOS program, as well as from other international programs, has shown that, during the last decade, the movement of warm water into the Arctic Ocean has increased. And the readings from this fall's cruise show unprecedented warmth in some areas.

"The large area of the Arctic Ocean promises to become much warmer," said Igor Polyakov, NABOS principal investigator and a research professor at IARC.

The readings come from observational moorings, which are instrument-bearing buoys that are anchored to the ocean floor and float below the surface of the ocean. These instruments first detected a surge of anomalous warm water, at mid-ocean depths of about 150 to 800 meters below the surface, in February of 2004 on the continental slope of the Laptev Sea, Polyakov said. "What we found this year was one of our eastern moorings also showed a warming signal."

That finding indicates that the warm water is moving further and further into the Arctic, he said, which could increase the overall temperature of the Arctic Ocean. While the causes of the influx of warm water will require further study, the observations from the NABOS project suggest that the Arctic Ocean is moving toward a warmer state, a change that could have global implications.

Ocean temperature in the Arctic is important because it may affect the amount of sea ice in the region. Scientists believe that arctic sea ice cover plays a major role in the global climate, as ice reflects more of the sun's heat than open water.

The NABOS project is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation and is a collaboration among six nations. It is one of many UAF projects that will contribute to the international efforts of the upcoming International Polar Year. IPY is a two-year event, slated to begin in March 2007, which will focus research efforts and public attention on the Earth's polar regions. UAF is among a handful of institutions worldwide that is ideally situated to participate in IPY research, education and outreach.

University of Alaska Fairbanks

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