Arctic Sea Ice Level: Effects on Greenhouse Gases Exchange and the Environment


Home / Arctic Sea Ice Level: Effects on Greenhouse Gases Exchange and the Environment
Sea-ice in the Arctic has been monitored regularly. Photo by Derdento on Pixabay.

Researchers have monitored sea ice in the Arctic regularly. Photo by Derdento on Pixabay

How do fluctuations in greenhouse gases affect the environment? More than you might think.

A study published in Nature Climate Change analyzed the consequences of the decline in the extent of sea ice in the Arctic region – the results indicate that fluctuations in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, have implications for the environment.

Sea Ice in the Arctic

Scientists regularly monitoring the extent of sea ice in the Arctic region in recent years have observed a constant decrease over the last 30 years. The researchers consider this decrease an example of how climate change is affecting the Arctic region.

According to some studies, sea-ice shrinkage is occurring at an even faster rate than previously predicted. In September 2012, a new record low was registered for the extent of sea-ice; the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that, on September 16, 2012, the minimum value of 3.41 million square kilometers was reached.

Arctic Amplification

In addition to the extent of sea ice, scientists have monitored other parameters of the Arctic region over the years, including ice thickness and reductions in snow cover. All of these data indicate that, in this region, warming is more enhanced than in other areas of the planet, a phenomenon scientists refer to as Arctic amplification.

Sea Ice Decline

Many factors can affect arctic amplification, which is a complex phenomenon; the extent of sea ice surely has an effect on it. However, the decline in sea ice has other important implications.

A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change on February 17, 2013, analyzed this issue in detail. The research was performed by the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science of Lund University, Sweden. Other partners in the study were Greenland Climate Research (Greenland), the University of Aarhus (Denmark), the University of Winnipeg (Canada) and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (US).

Greenhouse Gas Exchange

Dr. Frans-Jan Parmentier, leading scientist of the study, explained to Decoded Science:

Changes inthe extent of sea-ice have an effect on the fluxes of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2). Considering, for instance, the exchange between the sea and the atmosphere, the ice can act as a barrier; if less ice is present, or if the ice is present for a shorter period each year, the exchange will be different. The transfer of energy and water (i.e. evaporation) will also be affected.

Both the Arctic Ocean and the Arctic mainland are considered carbon sinks, capable of absorbing substantial amounts of CO2; the shrinkage of the ice, however, seems to have caused changes in the carbon dioxide fluxes patterns.

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