Ocean Currents

Why We’re Having Giant Waves in the Arctic Ocean

© Jupiter Unlimited

Findings from a recent study suggest that continued reductions in seasonal ice cover in the Arctic Ocean will lead to bigger waves capable of breaking up remaining sea ice and accelerating ice loss. In the past, much of the Arctic Ocean was covered with sea ice all year round. With little open water, even the fiercest storms could not generate big waves.

In recent years, though, sea ice has retreated dramatically in the summertime, creating much more open water. That open water provides ample room for storms to generate significant waves in the Arctic Ocean. According to an article in the Washington Post, authors of the study found that a September 2012 storm in the Beaufort Sea, off the northern coast of Alaska, generated average wave heights of 16 feet during a peak period. At least one wave reached 29 feet in height. The researchers observed that these new, bigger and more powerful waves could “be the feedback mechanism which drives the Arctic system toward an ice-free summer.”

Results from the research appear in Geophysical Research Letters are available here.

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