Arctic Waves? Massive Swells in Once Frozen 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.

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