Arctic Carbon Dioxide Levels Affected By Ice Melt
February 19, 2013

Arctic Ice Melt Disrupts Balance Of Greenhouse Gases

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Last year, so much sea ice in the Arctic had melted away that it beat the prior record amount set in the summer of 2007. By the end of the 2012 summer, the Arctic Ocean had lost about 2.1 million square miles of ice, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Colorado. Experts began to predict the kinds of trouble such a speedy and significant melt could have on the earth´s ecosystems as a whole. Now, one of these effects has already been seen.

According to research from Lund University in Sweden, the widespread reduction of ice in the Arctic Ocean has disrupted the balance of greenhouse gases in the region.

Lund University researcher Dr. Frans-Jan Parmentier now says there´s been a recent surge in the uptake and release of these greenhouse gases, specifically carbon monoxide and methane. Dr. Parmentier and team collected data about these gases in the Tundra region and around the Arctic Sea.

“Changes in the balance of greenhouse gases can have major consequences because, globally, plants and the oceans absorb around half of the carbon dioxide that humans release into the air through the use of fossil fuels,” explained Dr. Parmentier in a statement.

“If the Arctic component of this buffer changes, so will the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

Dr. Parmentier and his team of international researchers have observed the common tale of changes in an ecosystem. As ecosystems are composed of many dependent parts, one small change at the lowest levels can result in even larger changes further up the line.

Specifically, the team found as this ice melts, less sunlight is reflected back into the atmosphere. This light is then left to be absorbed by the ocean, which in turn causes the temperature of the surface water to rise. When the surface temperature of the water rises, so too does the temperature of the air surrounding it.

One good aspect of this kind of warming trend is the amount of vegetation that is sprouting up in the area. This vegetation eats up excess carbon dioxide, therefore reducing these levels in the area.

However, this also means more carbon dioxide and methane will end up in the soil, resulting in a longer lasting and negative effect on these regions.

Unlike their study of the effects of Arctic Sea ice melt on the Tundra, these researchers were unable to get an accurate view of the direct effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions on the Arctic Ocean. The effects of a natural increase in these gasses could cause a number of changes, and according to Dr. Parmentier many of these natural processes have yet to be identified by researchers.

“We know very little about how the shrinking sea ice cover disturbs the balance of greenhouse gases in the sea in the long term,” says Dr. Parmentier.

Last September, just before record amounts of ice loss had been reported, scientists began predicting what changes melting on this scale could bring to our atmosphere.

Speaking to the BBC, Kim Holmen of the Norwegian Polar Institute also points out more of the sun´s light will be absorbed by the Arctic Ocean, saying this will “influence wind systems and where the precipitation comes.”

"For northern Europe it could mean much more precipitation, while southern Europe will become drier so there are large scale shifts across the entire continent,” said Holmen in the BBC interview.