Climate: Small temperature changes have big impacts in Arctic Ocean ecosystems


A NASA Earth Observatory satellite image captures a 2010 plankton bloom off the coast of Greenland.

Long-term study tracks shifting currents in Fram Straight

Staff Report

Intensive monitoring along the Fram Straight, between Greenland Svalbard, shows that even a short-term influx of warm water into the Arctic Ocean would be likely to have long-lasting effects on regional ecosystems.

Even small changes in surface water temperatures could quickly spread to affect life in the depths of the Arctic Ocean, a team of scientists concluded in a new study published in the journal Ecological Indicators. Continue reading

New Arctic Ocean garbage patch may be forming

The five major ocean gyres.

Is another garbage patch forming in the Arctic?

Science ship documents plastic debris near Greenland; northern Europe eyed as source

Staff Report

Scientists aboard a German research vessel say they’ve started documenting plastic debris on the surface of the Arctic Ocean, creating new problems for marine life in the environmentally sensitive region.

Plastic has already been reported from stomachs of resident seabirds and Greenland sharks. The plastic litter reported from the Fram Strait could be leaking from a new garbage patch forming in the Barents Sea, the researchers concluded in their study, published in the scientific journal Polar Biology. Continue reading

New Arctic oil exploration puts narwhals at risk


Marine conservation advocates say new seismic airgun blasting in the Arctic Ocean threatens whales and other marine life. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Seismic blasting east of Greenland raises concerns about impacts to marine mammals

Staff Report

FRISCO — The Arctic Ocean north of Alaska isn’t the only area increasingly at risk from oil and gas exploitation. Oil companies are exploring the seabed off the eastern coast of Greenland, and the seismic blasting is likely harm whales and other marine life.

Oil companies use seismic equipment to map underground oil and gas reserves with airguns that emit 259 decibel blasts, a sound intensity would be perceived by humans as approximately eight times louder than a jet engine taking off. Continue reading

Shell gets federal greenlight for exploratory Arctic drilling


Shell gets OK for exploratory drilling in the Arctic Sea.

Conditional permits limit operations and set protections for marine mammals

Staff Report

FRISCO — Shell’s Arctic drill plans got a green light from federal regulators today, as the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement issued a pair of conditions permits for limited exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea, off the coast of Alaska.

The permits limit Shell to drilling in the top sections of wells. The company won’t be allowed to probe deep in into the oil-bearing zones until well-capping equipment is on hand and deployable within 24 hours — which still leaves enough time for thousands of gallons of crude to leak into the sensitive and pristine Arctic Ocean. Continue reading

Climate study shows nuances in Arctic carbon cycle

Warmer seas don’t always take up more carbon

West Antarctic ice sheets

How will melting sea ice affect global carbon cycles? bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As sea ice inexorably declines, the Arctic Ocean has started to absorb more carbon — by some as estimates, as much as one additional megaton each each, thanks to increased biological productivity.

But those effects are not spread evenly across the region, according to a new study that paints a nuanced picture of how global warming is changing the carbon cycle in the Arctic. The MIT research team modeled changes in Arctic sea ice, temperatures, currents, and flow of carbon from 1996 to 2007, and found that the amount of carbon taken up by the Arctic increased by 1 megaton each year.

But their detailed analysis found that some areas of the Arctic where temperatures have warmed the most are actually storing less carbon. Instead, these regions — including the Barents Sea, near Greenland — have become a carbon source, emitting carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Continue reading

Study finds rapid warming in depths of Greenland Sea

greenland sea

Deep waters in the Greenland Sea are warming.

Abysmal sea temps in region rising 10 times faster than global average

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Changing ocean dynamics have resulted in a distinct warming of deep waters in the Greenland Sea.

Since the 1980s, the water temperature between 2000 meters depth and the sea floor has risen by 0.3 degrees Celsius — enough heat energy to raise surface temperatures over Europe significantly. The rate of warming is about 10 times higher than the global average.

“This sounds like a small number, but we need to see this in relation to the large mass of water that has been warmed,” said Dr. Raquel Somavilla Cabrillo, who led the study for the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research.

“‘The amount of heat accumulated within the lowest 1.5 kilometres in the abyssal Greenland Sea would warm the atmosphere above Europe by 4 degrees centigrade. The Greenland Sea is just a small part of the global ocean. However, the observed increase of 0.3 degrees in the deep Greenland Sea is ten times higher than the temperature increase in the global ocean on average,” Somavilla said. Continue reading

Climate: What if Arctic sea ice doesn’t form in winter?


Arctic sea ice is on a downward spiral. Visit this NASA Earth Observatory website for information on this image.

New models look at year-round ice-free conditions to find parallels with Pliocene epoch

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide start to hover around 400 parts per million, climate scientists have been looking back about 3 to 5 million years, to the Pliocene Epoch — the last time heat-trapping greenhouse gases were at a similar level.

But temperatures during the Pliocene were about 3.5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than today and the sea level was 65 to 80 feet higher. Until now, scientists have assumed that there’s a time lag between atmospheric CO2 levels and the subsequent temperature increases that melt ice and drive ocean levels up. Continue reading


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