Climate-change news: diminishing Arctic sea ice may be more important than we thought

Arctic sea ice is likely more important than we previously thought.  New research is showing that it likely affects the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Figure 1).  
 

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is a vastly important system of water circulation. It distributes Earth’s energy and is a major controller of global climate.  This energy distribution is the reason Northern Ireland has such warmer weather than Alberta, Canada, despite occupying similar latitudes.  

Scienceosaurus sea ice climate change news article AMOC map.
Figure 1: Cartoon map of AMOC currents in the northern hemisphere. Surface currents shown as solid curves and deep currents shown as dashed curves. Credit: R. Curry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/Science/USGCRP.
 

New research is showing that Arctic sea ice (Figure 2), which has been drastically reduced by anthropogenic global warming (Stroeve et al., 2014), plays an important role in the stability of the AMOC.   

Scienceosaurus sea ice climate change news sea ice photo.
Figure 2: Photo of sea ice offshore of Ross Island, Antarctica. (Yes, this article is about Arctic sea ice, but this photo gets the point across.)
 
Here are some quotes about the findings from the researchers at Yale University:
“In our experiments we saw a potential loss of 30% to 50% of AMOC’s strength due to Arctic sea ice loss. That is a significant amount, and it would accelerate the collapse of AMOC if it were to occur.”
 
“We suggest that Arctic changes on a multi-decadal timescale, such as the decline in sea ice cover that we are currently experiencing, is the most efficient way to weaken the large-scale ocean circulation of the North Atlantic…”

Works cited:

Stroeve, J. C., Markus, T., Boisvert, L., Miller, J., & Barrett, A. (2014). Changes in Arctic melt season and implications for sea ice loss. Geophysical Research Letters41(4), 1216-1225. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2013GL058951/full

Jared Peters

Jared Peters

Jared Peters, PhD, is a geoscientist who specialises in marine sedimentology, marine palaeoglaciology and climate change.
Jared Peters
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Jared Peters, PhD, is a geoscientist who specialises in marine sedimentology, marine palaeoglaciology and climate change.