Freshwater 'Bulge' Spotted in Arctic

If bulge 'breaks,' colder currents could hit Europe
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser User
Posted Jan 24, 2012 1:10 AM CST
Updated Jan 24, 2012 4:03 AM CST

(Newser) – Scientists have detected an enormous freshwater "bulge" in the Arctic Ocean. The bulge measures nearly 2,000 cubic miles and has risen some six inches in the last nine years. Researchers speculate that the bulge is the result of strong winds whipping up a clockwise current, raising the water height in a section of the Arctic known as the Beaufort Gyre. The growing "dome" was spotted using radar satellites belonging to the European Space Agency. The water is fresh because it's coming largely from rivers running off the Russian side of the Arctic basin. The water being whipped into the gyre likely represents about 10% of all freshwater in the Arctic, reports the BBC.

A change in the wind could topple the dome, spilling cold freshwater as far as the northern sectors of the Atlantic Ocean. "Our findings suggest that a reversal of the wind could result in the release of this freshwater to the rest of the Arctic Ocean and even beyond," says the lead author of the new study of the dome, published in Nature Geoscience. The concern is that the water might disturb currents that have a key influence on weather patterns. The currents draw warm waters up from the tropics, maintaining milder temperatures in winter than would ordinarily be expected at northern European latitudes, and a change in the current could significantly affect temperatures. Researchers also speculate that the gyre may be sucking warmer water up from the depths of the Arctic and speed the melting of ice. The dome may be one more unforeseen effect of global warning, scientists speculate. (Read more Arctic basin stories.)

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