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Arctic Fresh Water Could Alter Europe’s Climate

Posted on: April 11, 2011

Oceanographers are monitoring a vast expanse of fresh water in the Arctic Ocean that could spill into the Atlantic, something that could result in unpredictable changes in the ocean currents that give Western Europe its moderate climate.

The scientists said Tuesday that the unusual accumulation of fresh water resulted from the Siberian and Canadian rivers dumping more water into the Arctic, and from melting sea ice.

“The volume of water discharged into the Arctic Ocean, largely from Canadian and Siberian rivers, is higher than usual due to warmer temperatures in the north causing ice to melt,” Laura De Steur of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research said in a statement.

“Sea ice is also melting quickly – another new record low for ocean area covered was recently documented by the National Snow and Ice Data Center, adding even more freshwater to the relatively calm Arctic Ocean,”

If it should spill into the Atlantic Ocean, the addition of so much fresh water could alter the ocean current that brings warmth from the tropics to European shores, she added.

The Arctic Ocean’s fresh water content has risen 20 percent since the 1990s, or about 8,400 cubic kilometers — the volume of all the water in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron combined, said German researcher Benjamin Rabe of the Alfred Wegener Institute.

ncreased runoff from the great northern rivers “could potentially impact the large scale ocean circulation in the Atlantic Ocean,” said De Steur.

“This is important for us in Western Europe because our climate is pretty much dictated by the Thermohaline ocean circulation,” she said, referring to the system of deep ocean and wind-driven currents, such as the Gulf Stream, which carries warmth from the tropics.

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