Record-high Arctic freshwater will flow to Labrador Sea, affecting local and global oceans

Posted: February 25, 2021 by oldbrew in Natural Variation, Ocean dynamics, research, Uncertainty
Tags: ,

Arctic currents [image credit: Brn-Bld @ Wikipedia]

In climate terms any potential Beaufort Gyre effect – due to its ability to reverse its flow direction under certain conditions – is a known unknown, so an interesting one to speculate on.
– – –
Freshwater is accumulating in the Arctic Ocean, says

The Beaufort Sea, which is the largest Arctic Ocean freshwater reservoir, has increased its freshwater content by 40% over the past two decades.

How and where this water will flow into the Atlantic Ocean is important for local and global ocean conditions.

A study from the University of Washington, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that this freshwater travels through the Canadian Archipelago to reach the Labrador Sea, rather than through the wider marine passageways that connect to seas in Northern Europe.

The open-access study was published Feb. 23 in Nature Communications.

“The Canadian Archipelago is a major conduit between the Arctic and the North Atlantic,” said lead author Jiaxu Zhang, a UW postdoctoral researcher at the Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean and Ecosystem Studies.

“In the future, if the winds get weaker and the freshwater gets released, there is a potential for this high amount of water to have a big influence in the Labrador Sea region.”

The finding has implications for the Labrador Sea marine environment, since Arctic water tends to be fresher but also rich in nutrients.

This pathway also affects larger oceanic currents, namely a conveyor-belt circulation in the Atlantic Ocean in which colder, heavier water sinks in the North Atlantic and comes back along the surface as the Gulf Stream.

Fresher, lighter water entering the Labrador Sea could slow that overturning circulation.

“We know that the Arctic Ocean has one of the biggest climate change signals,” said co-author Wei Cheng at the UW-based Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean and Atmosphere Studies. “Right now this freshwater is still trapped in the Arctic. But once it gets out, it can have a very large impact.”

Full article here.

  1. ilma630 says:

    Presumably, if salt water is being replaced by fresh water, its freezing point is raised making more ice likely?

  2. oldbrew says:

    From: WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION – Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project
    (+ other videos)

  3. ivan says:

    This potential doom and gloom prediction sounds just like a main talking point for some sort of seminar of the UN Church of Climatology. Maybe there is one going to be held soon acording to princess nut-nut.

  4. tom0mason says:

    The solubility of both O2 and CO2 are better in fresh water compared to the saline sea water, especially at lower temperatures. Surely this is a win for aquatic animal life (more oxygen) and a win for vegetative life (more CO2).
    See .

  5. oldbrew says:

    Woods Hole (WHOI) overview says:

    The major goal of this project is to investigate basin-scale mechanisms regulating freshwater content in the Arctic Ocean and particularly in the BG. The major hypothesis of the project is that the Beaufort Gyre (BG) accumulates a significant amount of fresh water from different sources under anticyclonic (clockwise) wind forcing, and then releases this fresh water when this forcing weakens or changes direction to a cyclonic (counterclockwise) rotation. This accumulation and release mechanism could be responsible for the observed salinity anomalies in the North Atlantic and for a decadal scale variability of the Arctic system as the BG may both filter annual river inputs and pulse freshwater outflows. [bold added]

    Last updated: September 30, 2020
    – – –
    The Great Salinity Anomaly of the 1970s is the most dramatic decadal-scale, low salinity event observed in the subpolar North Atlantic.

  6. saighdear says:

    IN school we mixed alcohol with water: how quickly did it mix together? Likewise mixing Cold or Warm ( relatively) Fresh water with the Salt water – we are often shown the cold/warm gradients in watertank models – but the real world? …

  7. pochas94 says:

    And, as soon as cooling sets in for a few years, arctic ice will form leaving behind salt water, which will sink and flow southward at depth, reviving the AMOC, which has happened many times before.

  8. oldbrew says:

    Gulf Stream System at its weakest in over a millennium
    Date: February 25, 2021

    Source: Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

    Never before in over 1000 years the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), also known as Gulf Stream System, has been as weak as in the last decades. Researchers compiled proxy data, reaching back hundreds of years to reconstruct the AMOC flow history. They found consistent evidence that its slowdown in the 20th century is unprecedented in the past millennium.
    – – –
    And it’s your fault, because warming is your fault 🤣

  9. Gamecock says:

    “Never before in over 1000 years the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), also known as Gulf Stream System, has been as weak as in the last decades. Researchers compiled proxy data, reaching back hundreds of years”

    Proxy data. Like real data, only sweeter.

  10. etilluminare says:

    What exactly is the impact that can be caused by the sudden change in the salinity of the Beaufort Sea? We knew that it has already increase in about 40% of freshwater content over the past few centuries so i wanted to know how it can alter the oceanic currents that are circulating within the Great Oceanic Conveyer Belt. Im sure that the lose of salinity in a small patch of sea isnt going to create disastrous consequences right?

  11. Phoenix44 says:


    Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

    Now there’s a title that gives me hope their research is unbiased!

  12. […] follows on quite well from our post yesterday about the Beaufort Gyre. Another attempted climate alarm fades away.– – –A […]

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