Arctic Ocean changes driven by sub-Arctic seas



New research explores how lower-latitude oceans drive complex changes in the Arctic Ocean, pushing the region into a new reality distinct from the 20th-century norm.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks and Finnish Meteorological Institute led the international effort, which included researchers from six countries. The first of several related papers was published this month in Frontiers in Marine Science.

Climate change is most pronounced in the Arctic. The Arctic Ocean, which covers less than 3% of the Earth’s surface, appears to be quite sensitive to abnormal conditions in lower-latitude oceans.

“With this in mind, the goal of our research was to illustrate the part of Arctic climate change driven by anomalous [different from the norm] influxes of oceanic water from the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, a process which we refer to as borealization,” said lead author Igor Polyakov, an oceanographer at UAF’s International Arctic Research Center and FMI.

Although the Arctic is often viewed as a single system that is impacted by climate change uniformly, the research stressed that the Arctic’s Amerasian Basin (influenced by Pacific waters) and its Eurasian Basin (influenced by Atlantic waters) tend to differ in their responses to climate change.

Since the first temperature and salinity measurements taken in the late 1800s, scientists have known that cold and relatively fresh water, which is lighter than salty water, floats at the surface of the Arctic Ocean. This fresh layer blocks the warmth of the deeper water from melting sea ice.

In the Eurasian Basin, that is changing. Abnormal influx of warm, salty Atlantic water destabilizes the water column, making it more susceptible to mixing. The cool, fresh protective upper ocean layer is weakening and the ice is becoming vulnerable to heat from deeper in the ocean. As mixing and sea ice decay continues, the process accelerates. The ocean becomes more biologically productive as deeper, nutrient-rich water reaches the surface.

By contrast, increased influx of warm, relatively fresh Pacific water and local processes like sea ice melt and accumulation of river water make the separation between the surface and deep layers more pronounced on the Amerasian side of the Arctic. As the pool of fresh water grows, it limits mixing and the movement of nutrients to the surface, potentially making the region less biologically productive.

The study also explores how these physical changes impact other components of the Arctic system, including chemical composition and biological communities.

Retreating sea ice allows more light to penetrate into the ocean. Changes in circulation patterns and water column structure control availability of nutrients. In some regions, organisms at the base of the food web are becoming more productive. Many marine organisms from sub-Arctic latitudes are moving north, in some cases replacing the local Arctic species.

“In many respects, the Arctic Ocean now looks like a new ocean,” said Polyakov.

These differences change our ability to predict weather, currents and the behavior of sea ice. There are major implications for Arctic residents, fisheries, tourism and navigation.

This study focused on rather large-scale changes in the Arctic Ocean, and its findings do not necessarily represent conditions in nearshore waters where people live and hunt.

The study stressed the importance of future scientific monitoring to understand how this new realm affects links between the ocean, ice and atmosphere.


Co-authors of the paper include Matthew Alkire, Bodil Bluhm, Kristina Brown, Eddy Carmack, Melissa Chierici, Seth Danielson, Ingrid Ellingsen, Elizaveta Ershova, Katarina Gårdfeldt, Randi Ingvaldsen, Andrey V. Pnyushkov, Dag Slagstad and Paul Wassmann.

From EurekAlert!

69 thoughts on “Arctic Ocean changes driven by sub-Arctic seas

  1. So, world was created in 1979 and there’s absolutely no way this has happened ever before.

      • Vuk: excellent link. Probably right in front of me but missed it in the read and a couple scans…CET = Central England Temperature?

      • Vuk,

        Thanks for the neat chart of currents, though I thinks the currents may vary from year to year. In fact there are so many variables it makes my head spin. But one amazing ice-melter can be that branch of the Norwegian Atlantic Current that heads up to the west coast of Svalbard. When that current is cooking it can vanish ice with astonishing speed. Through satellite views I’ve watched west winds shift big masses of ice across Fram Strait from Greenland into that current, and the ice is gone in just a few days. But this year that current seems to have lost its punch, and the ice has been far more able to linger on the west side of Svalbard. The only thing that I’ve seen that (I hypothesize) may have changed that current is that the Icelandic Low was often displaced way up into Barents Sea last winter, which brought a lot of cold winds south. right into the path of that current. At times the winds were storm force and raised mighty seas, and I imagine they could have chilled that current, and even slowed it.

        And that is just one variable effecting just one current!

    • Precisely! I HATE that word ‘anomalous’!! They define it (quite properly) as a “departure from the norm” but there is no climatic “norm”, as the IPCC itself pointed out some decades ago. And they can wriggle as much as they like; they use the word deliberately to give the impression of something “wrong”, different and *therefore* dangerous, and guess who is supposed to accept the “blame”!

      Time that honest climate scientists banned the word altogether and called out those of their colleagues who are using it mislead!

      • You can accurately point out though, that science as an institution suffers from anomalously low credibility and appears to be in a “death spiral” of late.

      • Anomalous, was the extreme high in Arctic sea ice in the late 1970s.

        Up there with the levels of the LIA.

        For most of the last 10,000 years, there has been far lower levels of Arctic sea ice.

    • Timo V,

      What I chuckled at was this line,

      ” “In many respects, the Arctic Ocean now looks like a new ocean,” said Polyakov.”

      One reason it looks like a “new ocean” is that we were ignorant dopes, even two decades ago. I can remember big arguments about whether sea-ice was dirty due soot from natural volcanoes, or soot from evil mankind’s power plants. I said maybe some was from algae growing on the bottom of the sea-ice, and was treated like a moron, because everyone knew the Arctic Sea was a desert. But now the drifting MOSAiC expedition has taken cool pictures of festoons of algae growing on the underside of the sea-ice. They are learning all sorts of neat things about the ecosystem, and got a picture of a seal hunting arctic cod in the pitch dark of winter when the air at the surface was close to thirty below zero.

      What Polyakov should have said is, “We are learning that we used to know fig all.” But there is more grant money in making it look like “a change from normal”.

      I swiped a picture of the algae under the ice for my sea-ice post yesterday, but the MOSAiC site makes interesting reading.

      • Caleb,
        I want to know how seals hunt in the pitch dark? I never thought about that before. I don’t doubt they do but I wonder how?

        • KcTaz,
          cI haven’t a clue. That is the real reason to study the arctic. It is full of wonders, and some of the answers we discover may turn out to have benefits in other areas.

          “How do seals hunt in the pitch dark?” also sounds like a joke waiting to be written. I’ll ask the kids at my Childcare today, and see what answers they come up with.

  2. So the Arctic turns out to have a complicated and variable system of controls and influences, more of which we now understand, and the Grand Unified Theory of the CO2 thumb on the dial is in doubt? It seems to me that every time we see the results of an actual study of an area it turns out to be complicated, chaotic even, and no way one tiny change in the atmospheric composition can be the driver of these complicated systems.

    • We start with the assumption that nothing changes unless CO2 levels change.
      Then when we find any changes we can prove that CO2 caused that change.

    • I wonder why we don’t do more to study these events and their effects on the oceans and climate?

      Geologic Heat Linked To East Coast Ocean Warming Trend

      …A well-defined ocean warming trend originating off the United States East Coast is likely from super-heated and methane-enriched fluids emitted from numerous seafloor hydrothermal vents/hot springs

      This trend has shown up on shallow Sea Surface (SST) maps since their advent in 1997 and has likely been present for thousands of years.
      …A review of SST data indicates that the East Coast ocean warming trend is the only very strong warming feature ever recorded along the entire East Coast.

      A well-defined ocean warming trend originating off the United States East Coast is likely from super-heated and methane-enriched fluids emitted from numerous seafloor hydrothermal vents/hot springs (see figure 1 after the jump).

      This trend has shown up on shallow Sea Surface (SST) maps since their advent in 1997 and has likely been present for thousands of years.

      …Integration then analysis of these characteristics and other information, primarily geological in nature, proves that the warm trend is the result of emissions from seafloor geological features such as a group of hydrothermal vents.

      …“We probably know even less about the very deep seas and oceans than we know about the moon,” he said. The range extends from Jan Mayen island in the Greenland Sea to the Fram Strait between Svalbard and Greenland. It comprises hundreds of volcanos, some just 20m below the surface.

      In summary, evidence substantiates that a well-defined, persistent and non-moving ocean warm trend originating off the East Coast of the United States is the result of super-heated and methane enriched fluids emitted from numerous seafloor hydrothermal vents/hot springs.

      This has far-reaching implications concerning the root cause of current worldwide ocean warming.

      Those advocating the global warming theory state that warming of Earth’s oceans is exclusively the result of atmospheric warming, which is induced by the Sun or human-induced emissions of CO2 emissions.
      They do not state that one other significant force that effects the warming of Earth’s oceans is heat flow from seafloor geological features. This is clearly an atmospheric bias.
      Many previous Climate Change Dispatch articles have shown that geologically heating of Earth’s oceans is the root cause of El Ninos, West Antarctic ocean warming, Arctic Sea Ice melting, end of Ice Ages, and so-called coral bleaching…

  3. Wait a minute “University of Alaska Fairbanks”? Now I’m having flashbacks. In 1967 I was a summer geology student/assistant to a mining company geologist and we were caught up in the July flood in Fairbanks. We were on the second floor of the old Nordale Hotel and police ordered us to evacuate, and just in time as the water was three feet deep in the lobby. The whole town was evacuated to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which was constructed on a high hill overlooking the town, I slept on a dormitory hallway floor for a week, and several times went downtown in large Military trucks to retrieve tourists belongings so they could leave for Anchorage. What a chaotic mess, but actually organized fairly well by local authorities.

    • I spent the month of April 1967 in Point Barrow, doing ground truthing for a NASA over-flight of an imaging radiometer. I had laid over for one night in Fairbanks on the way up. I didn’t realize that I was three months early for all the fun and excitement you experienced.

  4. “… our ability to predict weather, currents and the behavior of sea ice.”

    At the risk of becoming boring, our ability to predict weather, etc. extends out to about one month, maximum.

  5. “Although the Arctic is often viewed as a single system that is impacted by climate change uniformly, the research stressed that the Arctic’s Amerasian Basin (influenced by Pacific waters) and its Eurasian Basin (influenced by Atlantic waters) tend to differ in their responses to climate change.”

    I don’t think it is “viewed as a single system that is impacted (in isolation) by climate change”
    The ocean currents that enter and leave the Arctic are a significant factor in research both in heat balance anomaly studies and salinity anomaly studies. See for example

  6. The two basins differ because they are different.

    Nowhere in my Marine Bio education was the Arctic treated as 1 homogeneous region….not sure why that statement was made. Love how the focus is on temperature not salinity, except briefly in regards to temperature. *double facepalm*

    In other words, another study about something which we already know about but of which nothing new was discovered.

  7. In Russia they are intelligent enough to realise that Arctic ice isn’t going anywhere:

    They are busy making a new world’s largest icebreaker that will be able to break through ice more than 4m thick. It will go to sea in 2027.

    So Russia is betting against the Climagisterium consensus/party line that there won’t be 4m thick Arctic ice within a decade. And I think they’ll be proved right.

          • Lasse,
            Some people never learn.

            Yet another Icebreaker finds itself Stuck in Unexpectedly Thick Arctic Ice
            March 5, 2020

            The Russian icebreaker Kapitan Dranitsyn has been stuck for days in unexpectedly thick Arctic sea ice. She was on her way to support the MOSAiC expedition –a crew of “climate change experts” aboard the Polarstern who intentionally marooned themselves near the North Pole at a cost of $158 million to document an Arctic Winter (see full article here)— but now requires assistance herself, and a THIRD icebreaker, the Admiral Makarov, departed from Murmansk on March 3.

            Dozens of scientists and environmentalist from 20 nations boarded the German icebreaker RV Polarstern back in July, 2019 on a year-long voyage to ‘study the impact of climate change on the Arctic and how it affects the rest of the world‘ — the MOSAiC expedition.
            “So far we have always been locked out of that region, and we lack even the basic observations of the climate processes in the central Arctic from winter,” expedition leader Markus Rex told the AP.
            “We are going to change that for the first time”.

      • In the new Met City, the Met Tower has finally been raised again! The
        Met Tower is perched on an ice ridge extending out into the central part
        of the floe. This sensor mast stands at 10 metres tall and required
        seven people to raise it. “After a week of hard work by many people it’s
        really great to have the tower back in operation out here on the MOSAiC
        floe, continuing an important timeseries. In its new position it looks
        out over a variety of ice types with some amazing melt ponds forming in
        all directions,” says Matt Shupe, Co-leader of the expedition. The mast,
        with its 19 sensors attached, continuously measures the physical and
        chemical state of the near-surface atmosphere as well as the surface
        properties like heat flux, temperatures, snow depth and snow particles.
        The tower is secured to a hut and by two ice anchors underneath the 5 m
        thick sea ice.

        Text for July 3

    • Russia has been very busy building new icebreakers for quite some time.

      Russia: First Russian serially-produced nuclear icebreaker launched in St Petersburg

      The “Icebreaker Gap”: How Russia is Planning to Build more Icebreakers to Project Power in the Arctic
      And why the U.S. and Canada have been slow to respond.
      August 19, 2018

      It is interesting that the only climate model that has been accurate is the Russian one which predicts and predicted little warming.

  8. I don’t get this statement: “increased influx of warm, relatively fresh Pacific water “. As I recall the current feeding the Pacific side of the arctic comes from the tropics and should not “be relatively fresh”?

  9. so the arctic is becoming more productive….and supporting more life

    …only in climate science is that a bad thing

    doesn’t occur to them that what they claim is normal….might be what’s abby normal

  10. With the assumption that if there are any changes, it must have been caused by CO2.
    As every good climatologist is taught, prior to man, nothing ever changed.

  11. For “the 20th century norm”, please read, the trend since the PDO shift of 1977. That’s a deccadal cycle, not a centennial norm.

  12. Oceans with a little help from the sun influence the atmosphere which makes the wind and the rain and the temperature .
    CO2 however controls everything including the oceans .
    Amazing .

  13. I will study the new article by Polyakov as I did with several others. His 2017 article was very informative: Especially figure 5 showed well the processes that caused the recent sea ice melt which came from below, not from above.

    Polyakov is informing us about the most influencing factor that affects the quantity of sea ice: the influx of warmer than usual Atlantic subsurface water. It is this process of the import of warmer water than usual that melted the sea ice during the last decades. Melting sea ice causes more evaporation and so more Low Pressure Areas over the Arctic which attract more warm moist air from the south, water vapor rich air that is preventing surface radiation to reach space. A warmer atmosphere is the result.

    The inflow of more warm moist air from the south also transports more low pressure areas northward into the Arctic, storms that enforce the mixing of the colder fresher water (on top) with the warmer deep water below: causing extra sea ice melt etc. etc..

    The process will be reversed when the layer of fresh water over the Arctic again will be restored. As noted in the post above this process seems to start on the Amerasian side: “By contrast, increased influx of warm, relatively fresh Pacific water and local processes like sea ice melt and accumulation of river water make the separation between the surface and deep layers more pronounced on the Amerasian side of the Arctic.” This is the process to keep an eye on together with the measurements of new subsurface inflows from the Arctic. Together these two factors will indicate the direction of future developments.

    • Wim
      Do I understand you correctly – climate (of the Arctic) controlled by ocean circulation and mixing??

      What an extraordinary thought!

      Isn’t the ocean meant to be completely passive and mirror in real time atmospheric changes, despite having thousands of times the heat capacity of the atmosphere??


      • Phil: “Isn’t the ocean meant to be completely passive and mirror in real time atmospheric changes, despite having thousands of times the heat capacity of the atmosphere??”

        WR: The problem is that the IPCC is founded not by nations and not by oceanographers nor by geologists or by other scientists but by the World Meteorological Organization (being not an independent organization of engineers and scientists but being a part of the United Nations – a political institute) and by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the environmental branch of the same UN (political institute):

        The WMO needed the largest computers in the world in order to predict some days of weather and the environmentalists would get more power when there would be a big problem with the environment created by man: some alarm was needed. By creating the IPCC the WMO and UNEP were very succesful in creating that alarm. So the WMO now gets the biggest computers (for example here: and UNEP became a ‘very important organization’ because scientists ‘discovered’ a very big problem in the atmosphere. Even before they asked oceanographers whether oceans could have played the main role in a changing climate.

        By the way: the term ‘global warming’ is ‘out’ because warming appears to be concentrated on the Northern Hemisphere and more especially around ….. the Arctic.

      • Wim
        That’s an important insight about the IPCC. Climate science and attendant alarmism seem to be very atmosphere-centric.

        But atmosphere is about weather. Climate is of the ocean. Climate science should be recognised as a branch of oceanography.

        • Phil,
          The famous oceanographer Dr. Robert E. Stevenson gives some more insight in the history of the atmospheric dominance over climate as claimed by UNEP and WMO:

          “To one extent or another, I’ve been involved with the relationships of the oceans on climates, and vice versa for the past 50 years. It was when I became Secretary General of IAPSO, in 1987, to work closely with our sister associations of Meteorology (IAMAP), Hydrology (IAHS), and Volcanology (IAVCEI), all within our “mother union” International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics (IUGG) that I first had to face the claim coming from the United Nations Environment Program and World Meteorological Organization that global warming of the atmosphere was in full swing, induced by the over-enthusiasm of mankind to travel, keep warm, and feed themselves. By their desire to enhance their lives, human beings were increasing, untenably, the CO2 content of the Earth’s “greenhouse.” I was frankly surprised by this claim, and believed it not one whit.

          As an oceanographer, I’d been around the world, once or twice, and I was rather convinced that I knew the factors that influenced the Earth’s climate. The oceans, by virtue of their enormous density and heat-storage capacity, are the dominant influence on our climate. It is the heat budget and the energy that flows into and out of the oceans that basically determines the mean temperature of the global atmosphere. These interactions, plus evaporation, are quite capable of cancelling the slight effect of man-produced CO2.

          In 1991, when the IUGG and its associations met in Vienna for their General Assembly, the presidents and the secretaries-general of the four associations I’ve mentioned, discussed the program we would propose to forward to the International Commission of Scientific Unions (ICSU) for consideration at the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Conference. We all decided not to prepare any programs!

          In our joint statement, which I paraphrase here, we noted that “To single out one variable, namely radiation through the atmosphere and the associated ‘greenhouse effect,’ as being the primary driving force of atmospheric and oceanic climate, is a simplistic and absurd way to view the complex interaction of forces between the land, ocean, atmosphere, and outer space.”

          Furthermore, we stated, “climate modelling has been concentrated on the atmosphere with only a primitive representation of the ocean.” Actually, some of the early models depict the oceans as nearly stagnant. The logical approach would have been to model the oceans first (there were some reasonable ocean models at the time), then adding the atmospheric factors.

          Well, no one in ICSU nor the United Nations Environment Program/World Meteorological Organization was ecstatic about our suggestion. Rather, they simply proceeded to evolve climate models from early weather models. That has imposed an entirely atmospheric perspective on processes which are actually heavily dominated by the ocean. ”

          More in “Yes, the Ocean Has Warmed; No, It’s Not ‘Global Warming’ ”

          WR: if you want to make man guilty you had better not look to the oceans. That is what happened. All was well organised from an important organisation that is supposed to act from the point of ‘general interest for all people’: the UN. Suggesting that ‘Science’ was represented. But the Scientific Method was not followed by the IPCC, reports were written ‘according to the rules of the IPCC’:

          “This Working Group III contribution to the AR5 represents the combined efforts of hundreds of leading experts in the field of climate change mitigation and has been prepared in accordance with the rules and procedures established by the IPCC.”

          When the Scientific Method is followed ALL OTHER OPTIONS have to be excluded on arguments. Not by a simple exclusion because of a preconceived position. The foundation of the IPCC by groups with a specific interest freed the way to ‘organize the process’ in a way that a one-sided ‘atmospheric view’ over climate would dominate the world view.

          And that is exactly what has happened and still fools all policy makers. Thanks to UNEP and the WMO. And thanks to the UN that has been well-willing to provide the platform to have this all happen – while the UN should resolve REAL problems and not put into the world the biased ‘doom seeding’ projections like the one about climate as organized by her own UNEP and WMO.

  14. “Climate change is most pronounced in the Arctic. ”
    Meaning that it’s no longer a Polar Climate? What kind of climate has it changed to? There are a number such as Temperate, Tropical, Mediterranean, Continental and Arid, so I guess it is changing into one of those?

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