I took this photo on my local beach in southern Rhode Island early one morning at the start of the week. The whole shore was covered in thick ice, which I’ve never seen there, and the waves were sluggish in the 0 degree F/-18 degree C conditions. But this is nothing compared to just a little farther east around Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which has seen the rapid growth of sea ice during our recent Arctic blast.
Meanwhile, global sea ice concentration is experiencing a troubling start to the year.
Let’s zoom in a little, so you can better see the dipping of 2018’s bright red line:
A new study has shown that melting sea ice is changing the flow of nutrients into the Arctic Ocean. With sea ice melting, sediment from the continental shelf containing nutrients, carbon, and trace metals is flowing into the Arctic Ocean. Along with increased light (also due to the melting of sea ice), this influx of nutrients could cause a phytoplankton bloom. Phytoplankton form the base of the marine food chain, and it’s likely this increased productivity would affect the marine ecosystem.
Scientists are closely watching the Beaufort Gyre, a major wind-driven current in the Arctic Ocean, which has, historically, weakened every five to seven years and reversed direction. When this happens, it expels ice and freshwater into the eastern Arctic Ocean and North Atlantic.
But the gyre seems to be stuck and has been spinning clockwise for twelve years, collecting cold freshwater from melting sea ice, runoff from Russian and North American rivers, and from the Bering Sea. When the gyre does eventually slow and reverse direction, scientists are concerned that it will expel this icy freshwater into the Northern Atlantic, causing severe winters and a disruption to the fishing industry in northern Europe.
Sea Ice — Current Conditions
Arctic sea ice is at a record low for this time of year.
Arctic sea ice has been particularly low in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, which connect with the northern Pacific Ocean.
Antarctic Sea ice concentration is also far below the mean, though not quite as low as last year’s record low.
Ice Shelves & Icebergs
Strong El Niño events cause large changes in Antarctic ice shelves, a new study has found. While more snow falls on the surface during such events, changes in ocean circulation cause increased melting from below, resulting in a net loss of ice mass:
Iceberg A-86a is still bumping around near the Larsen C ice shelf from which it calved back in July.
Michael Wolovick, a glaciologist from Princeton has been studying whether building massive underwater walls of sand and stone at the mouths of unstable glaciers could slow or reverse their collapse.
I’m ending this week’s post with some stunning imagery of sea ice, like spectacular abstract artworks, from NASA Earth Observatory.
As always, I am not a scientist but a writer/illustrator and science communicator passionately in love with sea ice, ice shelves, and polar ice in general. I welcome input and corrections from and connections with polar scientists as I learn more about this remarkable and vital part of our planet and bring this knowledge to a wider audience.