Arctic Waves? Massive Swells in Once Frozen Arctic Ocean

Arctic Ocean

Waves typically seen off the coast of Hawaii are now impacting parts of the Arctic Ocean. The findings have stunned researchers as the water across the Arctic Ocean is ice-covered most of the time. Imagine the surprise when researchers measured waves of more than 16 feet in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea, just to the north of Alaska.

It looks like ice has a new enemy besides global warming. Researchers say these massive waves could potentially break up ice quicker than ice-melt.

The wave measurements date back to 2012 when researchers Jim Thomson and W. Erick Rogers reported them in an article in Geophysical Research Letters.

“The observations reported here are the only known wave measurements in the central Beaufort Sea,” the pair wrote, “because until recently the region remained ice-covered throughout the summer and there were no waves to measure.”

Thomson and his team used sensors beneath the sea’s surface to determine the height of the swells.

Waves need wind and a lot of open area to form. Typically this open area forms in the summer. “In recent years, the seasonal ice retreat has expanded dramatically, leaving much of the Beaufort Sea ice-free at the end of the summer.”

Thomson told the Washington Post the increased wave action could accelerate the break up of ice. “We don’t have much direct evidence of this, or knowledge of the relative importance compared with melting, but the process is real.”

Thomson plans to get concrete evidence of this process in a project later this summer.

  • Joel Wilson

    This is great, not only will all the surfers out there appreciate this but hopefully we could see artic shipping lanes opening sooner. Keep up the good work.

    • Chris C

      The Canadian Northwest Passage shipping lanes are already in use. The first commercial cargo ship went through in 1969 (the SS Manhattan) and hundreds have followed up to large bulk cargo and container ships. It is still a relatively high risk voyage, but is also very high-profit, saving as much as 70% in shipping costs.

      Crystal Cruises is now offering summer sailings of a Northwest Passage Cruise that promises to take tourists far enough north to see polar bears and pack ice (which used to be seen from land.)

  • Bill Evans

    Good points, Joel, and so apropos for all of the oil tankers as well.

  • Clark

    I think this is great too. Ice reflects more sunlight back into space than open water. So the more the waves break up the ice the more sunlight will be absorbed by the ocean. Warmer oceans are more acidic which weakens and kills off shell forming organisms. Warmer oceans also have less oxygen, which means less fish. Warmer oceans also allow for stronger storms which cause more economic damage, far greater than any new shipping lines could ever make up for. Warmer water expands which raises the sea level, which in turn melts more land based ice which causes the sea to rise even more. But before the sea water inundates the shore line,it infiltrates the ground water rising the water table and making it more brackish. Melting permafrost, releasing methane, further warming the planet. What does all this mean, it means jobs, architecture, construction, infrastructure, not to mention all the money to be made on the mass migration of people from coastal cities and island nations to the interior. There will most certainly be winners and losers in this but those who win are going to win big and the losers, well they will do what they must and suffer.

  • http://news TJFIlming

    The wave measurements date back to 2012 , OH by all means let two years of Data collection be the base line by which we measure everything.
    With that reasoning Chicago is a war zone.
    Minneapolis is always expecting -20 weather, forever
    Immigration is normal
    Our national debt is under control.

    Idiots