Early in 2022, the Arctic skilled its strongest cyclone on file, with wind speeds reaching 62 mph (100 km/h). Though storms aren’t uncommon within the Arctic, this one led to an intensive lack of sea ice that stunned Arctic researchers.
Within the Arctic, sea ice — frozen seawater that floats over the ocean within the polar areas — reaches its largest protection in March and what’s considered its thickest most in April, researchers informed Reside Science. However as sea ice was increase this 12 months, it hit a significant setback. Between Jan. 20 and Jan. 28, the storm developed over Greenland and traveled northeast into the Barents Sea, the place huge waves reached 26 toes (8 meters) excessive. Like a wild bronco, these waves bucked sea ice on the fringe of an icy pack 6 toes (2 m) up and down, whereas even bigger waves swept 60 miles (100 km) towards the middle of the pack. Though climate fashions precisely predicted the evolution of the storm, sea ice fashions didn’t predict simply how a lot the storm would have an effect on ice thickness.
Six days after the storm dissipated, the ocean ice within the affected waters north of Norway and Russia had thinned 1.5 toes (0.5 m) — twice as a lot as what sea ice fashions had predicted. Researchers analyzed the storm in a examine printed Oct. 26 within the Journal of Geophysical Analysis: Atmospheres (opens in new tab).
Associated: The Arctic’s most secure sea ice is vanishing alarmingly quick
“The lack of sea ice in six days was the most important change we may discover within the historic observations since 1979, and the realm of ice misplaced was 30% larger than the earlier file,” lead creator Ed Blanchard-Wrigglesworth (opens in new tab), an atmospheric scientist on the College of Washington in Seattle, mentioned in a assertion (opens in new tab). “The ice fashions did predict some loss, however solely about half of what we noticed in the true world.”
The examine discovered that atmospheric warmth from the storm affected the realm minimally, so one thing else should have been occurring.
The paper authors provided a couple of concepts for why the ocean ice thinned a lot, so quick. It may have been that their fashions had wrongly estimated the ocean ice thickness earlier than the storm. Or maybe the storm’s violent waves broke up the ocean ice greater than anticipated. It may be that the waves churned up deeper, hotter water, which then rose to soften the ocean ice pack from the underside.
Sea ice thickness is notoriously onerous to review and mannequin. Interactions between the ice, ocean and environment have an effect on sea ice thickness in ways in which scientists do not absolutely perceive. And a few of these interactions occur on too small of a scale to mannequin. For example, scientists know that swimming pools of melted water that seem on the highest of sea ice within the Arctic summer time do affect sea ice thickness, however that impact is onerous to mannequin (opens in new tab). Soften swimming pools can also throw off satellites, which can measure these swimming pools as “ocean” slightly than water on prime of sea ice.
And because the local weather warms, it is extra necessary than ever to grasp Arctic storms and their impact on sea ice. In a paper printed within the journal Nature Communications (opens in new tab) in November, a crew of NASA scientists discovered that sea ice loss and hotter temperatures will result in stronger Arctic storms by the finish of the century (opens in new tab). These extra intense storms may carry rainfall that might soften sea ice, trigger hotter temperatures and churn up hotter water from deep beneath.
“Going into the longer term, that is one thing to bear in mind, that these excessive occasions may produce these episodes of big sea ice loss,” Blanchard-Wrigglesworth mentioned.