Large Increase in Arctic Sea Wave Heights Breaking-Up Arctic Ice

By | Aug 01, 2014 07:51 PM EDT
Sea Ice

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Oceanographers reported a dramatic increase in wave heights in the Arctic they say is hastening the melting of the Arctic ice.

The larger Arctic waves are smashing into the ice in the Arctic Sea, a fact they attributed to climate change.

The team consisting of researchers from the Naval Research Laboratory and University of Washington used detectors attached to the bottom of the sea to gauge the size of waves.

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The team observed waves averaging 16 feet high during a storm in September 2012. The average for the whole 2012 season was 3 to 6 feet but the highest was some 29 feet, which was reached by a single wave in the Beaufort Sea, said lead researcher and oceanographer Jim Thomson,.

The team linked the melting of the ice to climate change and high storm winds to the huge Arctic waves.

"As the Arctic is melting, it's a pretty simple prediction that the additional water should make waves,"  said Thomson.

While news of big waves in the Arctic isn't new, scientists are concerned that the surges of water might break up the sea ice.

How the Arctic waves will exactly affect the ice is currently unknown, however, and there aren't any projections of possible sea ice loss.

The information gathered by the research team points to a potential looming threat.

"Waves could accelerate the ice retreat," said Thomson. "We don't have much direct evidence of this, or knowledge of the relative importance compared with melting, but the process is real."

The size of the ice cap in the Arctic has been and the volume of sea ice scattered in its freezing waters are decreasing.

The year's highest volume of sea ice was the fifth lowest recorded since 1979 when the National Snow and Ice Data Center began recording.

The research project is part of the U.S. Office of Naval Research's wide-ranging project of tracking the break-up of Arctic sea ice over the summer. 

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