In early 2022, the Arctic experienced its strongest hurricane ever, with winds reaching 62 mph (100 km/h). Although storms are not rare in the Arctic, these storms have led to a significant loss of sea ice that has surprised researchers in the Arctic.
In the Arctic, sea ice — frozen sea water that floats above the ocean in the polar regions — reached its largest coverage in March and what is believed to be its maximum in April, researchers told Live Science. But with the buildup of sea ice this year, he’s faced a major setback. Between January 20th and January 28th, the storm developed green land It traveled northeast into the Barents Sea, where huge waves reached 26 feet (8 metres) high. Like a wild bronco, those waves receded sea ice The edge of an ice pack moved 6 feet (2 m) up and down, while larger waves swept 60 miles (100 km) toward the center of the pack. Although weather models accurately predicted storm development, sea ice models didn’t just predict how much the storm would affect ice thickness.
Six days after the storm dissipated, sea ice in affected waters north of Norway and Russia had diminished by 1.5 feet (0.5 metres)—twice as much as sea ice models predicted. Researchers analyzed the storm in a study published Oct. 26 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmosphere (Opens in a new tab).
Related: The most stable Arctic sea ice is disappearing at an alarming rate
“The loss of sea ice in six days was the largest change we could find in historical observations since 1979, and the area of ice lost was 30% greater than the previous record,” said the lead author. Ed Blanchard Rigglesworth (Opens in a new tab)an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle, said V.A statement (Opens in a new tab). “Ice models predict some loss, but only about half of what we’ve seen in the real world.”
The study found that atmospheric heat from the storm affected the area minimally, so something else must have been going on.
The paper’s authors offer some insights into why sea ice is thinning so much and so quickly. Their models could have incorrectly estimated the thickness of the sea ice before the storm. Or maybe the storm’s massive waves broke up more sea ice than expected. The waves could also have scuttled deeper, warmer waters that then rose to melt the mass of sea ice from the bottom.
The thickness of sea ice is notoriously difficult to study and model. Interactions between ice, ocean, and atmosphere affect sea ice thickness in ways that scientists don’t fully understand. Some of these interactions occur on a scale that is too small to model. For example, scientists know that pools of meltwater appear on top of sea ice in the Arctic the summer Do not affect the thickness of sea ice, but the effect difficult to model (Opens in a new tab). Melt pools can also dispose of satellites, which may measure those pools as “ocean” rather than as water over sea ice.
And as the climate warms, it is more important than ever to understand Arctic storms and their impact on sea ice. In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications (Opens in a new tab) In November, a team of NASA scientists found that the loss of sea ice is warming Temperatures It will lead to polar storms stronger than before end of the century (Opens in a new tab). These intense storms can produce rains that can melt sea ice, causing warmer temperatures and warming waters from the depths.
“In the future, this is something we have to keep in mind, that these extreme events may lead to these episodes of massive sea ice loss,” Blanchard-Wrigglesworth said.
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