Science

Giant Arctic Waves Could Be Generating Sea Ice Loss

  • Mary Nichols , Design & Trend Contributor
  • Jul, 30, 2014, 02:44 PM
Arctic
(Photo : REUTERS/Stuart McDILL ) Giant arctic waves could be causing an acceleration in the loss of sea ice.

A new study reports that giant waves in the Arctic Ocean could be generating the loss of sea ice.

A University of Washington researcher released the first study of waves in the middle of the Arctic Ocean this week, after detecting house-sized waves during a September 2012 storm, writes Auto World News. 

Results were recently published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

'As the Arctic is melting, it's a pretty simple prediction that the additional open water should make waves,' lead author Jim Thomson, an oceanographer with the UW Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement.

The data used in the study showed that winds in mid-September 2012 created waves of 16 feet high during the peak of the storm.

Arctic ice used to retreat less than 100 miles from the shore. In 2012 however, it retreated over 1,000 miles, writes Auto World News.

Wind blowing across an expanse of water for a long period of time creates whitecaps and small waves, which slowly build to form big swells carrying large amounts of energy.

The size of the waves increases with the travel distance over open water - and when waves grow bigger the also catch more wind, which drives them faster - and with more energy.

'Almost all of the casualties and losses at sea are because of stormy conditions, and breaking waves are often the culprit,' Thomson said in a statement.

It also could be a new feedback loop leading to more open water as bigger waves break up the remaining summer ice floes, writes Auto World News.

Waves breaking on the shore could affect the coastlines, where permafrost is already working to making shores more susceptible to erosion, according to the study.

Observations were made as part of another project by a sensor anchored to the seafloor and sitting more than 150 feet below the surface in the middle of the Beaufort Sea approximately 350 miles off Alaska's north slope, writes Auto World News.

The study measured wave height from mid-August until late October 2012.

'The melting has been going on for decades. What we're talking about with the waves is potentially a new process, a mechanical process, in which the waves can push and pull and crash to break up the ice," Thomson said in a statement.

Satellite data can give an estimate of wave heights, but they cannot provide exact numbers for storm events - and they also do not work well in the partially ice-covered waters, which is common during the Arctic summers.

Bigger waves and warming temperatures could act together on summer ice floes, Thomson said in a statement.

'At this point, we don't really know relative importance of these processes in future scenarios,' he added.

Figuring out the relationship could help predict what will happen to the sea ice in the future and help forecast how long the ice-free channel will remain open each year.

Thomson will travel back to Alaska's northern coast from late July through mid-August, deploying sensors to track waves.

He is hoping to learn more about wave heights and how the waves are affected by weather and ice conditions and the amount of open water.

'It's going to be a quantum leap in terms of the number of observations, the level of detail and the level of precision' for measuring Arctic Ocean waves, Thomson said in a statement.

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