Changes in Arctic Ocean waters detected

Jan. 4, 2012 at 7:05 PM
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SEATTLE, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- A hemisphere-wide weather phenomenon is causing record-breaking amounts of freshwater to accumulate in the arctic's Beaufort Sea, U.S. researchers say.

A decades-long shift in atmospheric pressure associated with a phenomenon called the Arctic Oscillation is causing frigid freshwater flowing into the Arctic Ocean from three of Russia's great rivers to be diverted hundreds of miles to a completely different part of the ocean, a study published in the journal Nature reported.

A low pressure pattern created by the oscillation from 2005 to 2008 drew water from Russia's Lena, Yenisey and Ob rivers away from the Eurasian Basin, between Russia and Greenland, and into the Beaufort Sea, a part of the Canada Basin bordered by the United States and Canada, researchers at the University of Washington said.

"Knowing the pathways of freshwater in the upper ocean is important to understanding global climate because of freshwater's role in protecting sea ice -- it can help create a barrier between the ice and warmer ocean water below -- and its role in global ocean circulation," researcher Jamie Morrison said in a UW release Wednesday.

"Too much freshwater exiting the arctic would inhibit the interplay of cold water from the poles and warm water from the tropics" and affect world climate, he said.

In the Beaufort Sea, the water is the freshest it's been in 50 years of record keeping, he said.

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