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As ice sheet melts, Greenland's fjords become less salty

Scientists suggest the influx of meltwater is altering local currents and disrupting marine ecosystems.

By
Brooks Hays
New research suggests Greenland's fjords are becoming less saline as freshwater from melting ice is flushed in by ocean currents. Photo by Nathan Kurtz/NASA/UPI
New research suggests Greenland's fjords are becoming less saline as freshwater from melting ice is flushed in by ocean currents. Photo by Nathan Kurtz/NASA/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 13 (UPI) -- New data suggests the water around Greenland is becoming less salty as the island's ice sheet melts.

Researchers with Denmark's Aarhus University detailed the impact of melting ice on Greenland's coastal waters in a new paper published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.

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The loss of ice in Greenland is relatively well documented. Over the last two decades, the island's ice has roughly doubled its melt rate. But few studies have looked at how the influx of freshwater is impacting coastal waters.

Since 2003, Aarhus scientists have been analyzing water samples collected from Young Sound and from the sea joust outside the sound. Young Sound is located in northeast Greenland. Between 2003 and 2015, researchers recorded a four-fold increase in the amount of fresh water accumulating in the top layers of the sea.

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During that time, coastal waters became an average of 1.5 parts per million less saline.

Researchers suspect most of the freshwater is entering north of Young Sound and being carried southward along the eastern coast of Greenland by ocean currents.

This influx of freshwater is then pushed into Greenland's fjords. Scientists suggest the influx of meltwater is altering local currents and disrupting marine ecosystems. Higher concentrations of freshwater on the surface can prevent nutrient-rich bottom water from rising to the surface where sunlight triggers plankton algae growth.

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Plankton algae is the backbone of Greenland's marine food chains. A reduction in algae production could make fish stocks less productive. Commercial fishing accounts for 88 percent of the island's exports.

Researchers warn that ice melting is less severe in northeastern Greenland where they've been collecting water samples. The impact of freshwater could be more dramatic in the southern portions of the island where melting is greater.

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