‘Ticking Time Bomb’ Under Canada Basin Threatens to Melt the Western Arctic Ice

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The Canada Basin could experience a significant ice melt if the warm water pocket which is 50 meters below were to be released, suggests a new study published in Science Advances. Researchers from Yale University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution measured the temperatures in the Canada Basin for the last 30 years. The basin is in the Arctic Ocean, north of Alaska, spreads to parts of Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

It was known for a long time that under the western Arctic there is a warm layer of water at almost 50 meters depth. Usually, warm water would float because it’s not as dense as cold water. But the warm water under the basin is insulated and cannot float. Having a lot of salt also makes it heavier so that it remains at the bottom. The fresh and colder water would sit right under the sea ice.

However, the study found that in the last 30 years, the heat in the warm layer has doubled, making the scientists theorize that the warm water comes from the edges of the basin – for example, from the Northern Chukchi Sea where sea ice melts and retreats every summer.

A Lot of Water Exposed to Sun Rays

The lead author of the study, Mary-Louise Timmermans explains:

“That leaves a lot of open water exposed to the sun rays directly.”

As the water at the edges becomes warmer, it’s pushed into the basin because of the clockwise winds.

Co-author John Toole says that the warming layer is “a ticking time bomb,” and that with the heat not going away, “eventually … it’s going have to come up to the surface and it’s going to impact the ice.”

For the time being, the sea ice at the surface won’t be threatened by the influence of the warm water pocket, concluded Timmermans:

“That heat is very much insulated from the surface area. It’s really difficult to say the extent to which it’s happening now. That influence may increase going forward.”

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere