Arctic Ocean waves are being seen as a sign of accelerated global warming that has melted once permanent ice and replaced it with open water.
A study in the Geophysical Research Letters found that the Arctic Ocean has giant waves in places where there once was only ice. Some of the waves reached as high as 29 feet, the study found, and the waves themselves are so large that they are actually accelerating ice melting in other places.
The rising Arctic Ocean waves are part of a larger warming trend to strike the region. The National Snow and Ice Data Center noted that during the second half of June, sea ice extent loss was the second fastest in the satellite data record.” Sea ice thickness this year is tracking among the lowest four years on record, the center added.
The waves point clearly to global warming, researchers say.
“As the Arctic is melting, it’s a pretty simple prediction that the additional open water should make waves,” said lead author Jim Thomson, an oceanographer with the UW Applied Physics Laboratory.
Research teams are now in the Arctic, placing sensors and studying data to find out the exact cause of the melting, and how the waves could be accelerating the process.
“There are several competing theories for what happens when the waves approach and get in to the ice,” Thomson said. “A big part of what we’re doing with this program is evaluating those models.”
The Arctic Ocean waves are hurting more than ice caps. Researchers say they are causing dangerous conditions that make it difficult or even impossible for ships to travel. That could have a devastating effect on oil drilling and Arctic shipping lanes.
As the Washington Post notes, the situation may be the worst of all recorded history:
Whether or not 2014 will be a record low sea ice year is uncertain. 2012, which set a record for lowest Arctic sea ice extent on record, saw an incredible, rapid drop in sea ice beginning in the late summer, despite that year being cooler and cloudier than the previous record low year. 49 percent of the ice cap went missing that year, and sea ice extent dropped to an astounding 18 percent below the previous record year of 2007.
The Arctic Ocean waves are not the only problem to strike the poles. At the opposite end of the world in Antarctica, there has been a massive ice shift as new growth of ice has shown up. Scientists are at a loss to what could be causing it, but have suggested everything from a slowdown in the rate of global warming to plain old faulty data.