SOURCE: Climate Central

DATE: April 6, 2017

SNIP: The Arctic is undergoing an astonishingly rapid transition as climate change overwhelms the region.

New research sheds light on the latest example of the changes afoot, showing that parts of the Arctic Ocean are becoming more like the Atlantic. Warm waters are streaming into the ocean north of Scandinavia and Russia, altering ocean productivity and chemistry. That’s making sea ice recede and kickstarting a feedback loop that could make summer ice a thing of the past.

In winter from 2013-2015, the cap separating the deep water and surface water disappeared completely in some locations, allowing the warm Atlantic waters to reach the surface and cut further into sea ice pack. At the same time, warm air has further reduced sea ice, which is allowing still more mixing of the ocean layers.

The result is a feedback loop that is essentially turning roughly a third of the eastern Arctic Ocean into something resembling the ice-free Atlantic Ocean.

The sea ice changes are having profound impacts outside of researchers’ ability to access more remote sites. Other research published earlier this week in Science Advances shows that thinning sea ice is allowing phytoplankton to bloom across the region.

Phytoplankton are tiny plants, and like your average potted plant, they need sunlight to bloom. Sea ice has been thick enough to prevent that from happening until very recently. The new findings show that over the past decade, up to 30 percent of the Arctic has become primed for summer blooms.

“Both of our results show the Arctic becoming a very different place than it has been in the past,” Christopher Hovart, an oceanographer at Harvard who led the plankton study, said. “Water pathways are changing, the ecology is changing, all driven by the declining sea ice field.”