January 28, 2011

Fram Strait Warming Affecting Arctic Ice Levels

Temperatures of North Atlantic Ocean currents flowing north into the Arctic Ocean are at their highest levels in nearly 2,000 years, and could ultimately lead to summers that are ice-free in the North Pole region, researchers claim in a new study.

The waters of the Fram Strait, which is located at the northern end of the Gulf Stream near Greenland, have gotten approximately 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer over the past century, study leader Robert Spielhagen of the Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature in Mainz, Germany and his colleagues wrote in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

"The Fram Strait water temperatures today are about 2.5 degrees F warmer than during the Medieval Warm Period, which heated the North Atlantic from roughly 900 to 1300 and affected the climate in Northern Europe and northern North America," the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder), home of study co-author Thomas Marchitto, said in a press release on Thursday.

According to Spielhagen and his colleagues, the warming of the Arctic region and the decrease of the sea ice extent in the area are linked to the increased heat of the North Atlantic Ocean waters.

He called the Fram Strait warming "significantly different from all climate variations in the last 2,000 years" and noted that continued temperature increase "could lead to major sea ice loss and drastic changes for the Arctic."

"We know that the Arctic is the most sensitive region on the Earth when it comes to warming, but there has been some question about how unusual the current Arctic warming is compared to the natural variability of the last thousand years," Marchitto, an associate professor at the CU-Boulder Geological Sciences Department, added in a statement. "We found that modern Fram Strait water temperatures are well outside the natural bounds."


Image Caption: The edge of the Arctic ice tongue in the Fram Strait is seen in this photo from NASA's DC-8 flying laboratory taken in 2008. (NASA photo)


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