Climate change alters Arctic water cycle, speeding effects

By on September 8, 2012
Photo by Yoshihiro Iijima/JAMSTEC The Lena River near the Arctic Ocean.

A new study finds that a wetter Arctic may be a warmer Arctic, according to a press release from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Xianfdong Zhang, a scientist at the university’s International Arctic Research Center, led the study. He said increased water from precipitation, air moisture and river discharge creates a stronger water cycle and, therefore, causes even more precipitation. That, Zhang said, could cause climate change to advance.

Researchers looked at 60 years of water cycle data on the Ob, Lena and Yenesei Rivers. All three drain into the Eurasian Arctic. They found that moisture increased on average by 2.6 percent and river discharge increased by 2 percent. The three rivers now annually dump 39 cubic miles more fresh water into the Arctic Ocean than in the 1940s.

That extra fresh water mixing into salty Arctic waters increases ocean surface temperatures and reduces salinity, according to the study. It also may weaken water circulation in the Atlantic Ocean. Those changes can affect biological processes, weather, erosion and sea ice.

Image: The Lena River near the Arctic Ocean (Credit: Yoshihiro Iijima/JAMSTEC)

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