Freshwater Outflow from Beaufort Sea Could Alter Global Climate Patterns

  • 3 March 2021
Freshwater Outflow from Beaufort Sea Could Alter Global Climate Patterns

The Beaufort Sea, which is the largest Arctic Ocean freshwater reservoir, has increased its freshwater content by 40% over the past two decades. How and where this water will flow into the Atlantic Ocean is important for local and global ocean conditions. A new study, funded by a collaboration between CPO’s Climate Variability & Predictability (CVP) and DOE's Earth and Environmental System Modeling Program (E2SM), shows that the freshwater travels through the Canadian Archipelago to reach the Labrador Sea, rather than through the wider marine passageways that connect to seas in Northern Europe. The study is led by researchers with the University of Washington, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) and is published in Nature Communications.

Their findings have implications for the Labrador Sea marine environment, since Arctic water tends to be fresher but also rich in nutrients. This pathway also affects larger oceanic currents, namely a conveyor-belt in the Atlantic Ocean—known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)—in which colder, heavier water sinks in the North Atlantic and comes back along the surface as the Gulf Stream. Fresher, lighter water entering the Labrador Sea could slow that overturning circulation. In fact, a recent Washington Post article noted that scientists are already seeing a slowing in AMOC. This study suggests that AMOC strength is affected by these sources of freshwater in the Arctic Ocean and Labrador Sea.
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Further information available from both the University of Washington and Los Alamos National Laboratory press releases.

Image: Dye tracer released from the Beaufort Gyre region of the western Artic Ocean indicates freshwater transport through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago into the western Labrador Sea, causing freshening there. Image credit: Francesca Samsel and Greg Abram (University of Texas at Austin).




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