Article image

Arctic ocean is warming four times faster than the global average

The Arctic Ocean occupies the top of our planet, forming a frigid world of ice and water. This ocean is changing rapidly, currently warming four times faster than any other ocean on Earth.

This temperature surge carries significant implications that could ultimately spread around the world. Scientists are studying this phenomenon intensively, striving to understand the causes and predict its consequences.

Among the researchers is Annabel Payne, a lead author hailing from the Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETHZ, Zürich, Switzerland.

Understanding Arctic warming

Arctic warming, a term that has been often bandied about in climate circles, refers to the sharp rise in temperatures in the Arctic region relative to other parts of our planet. This effect, commonly known as Arctic amplification, hinges on a series of feedback loops.

The melting of sea-ice plays a prime role in this domino effect. As ice vanishes, it exposes the darker ocean water underneath, which absorbs more sunlight and accelerates warming.

This cycle further reduces the Earth’s albedo, the measure of its reflective capability, facilitating more heat absorption.

Down to the permafrost level

The warming process doesn’t just stop there. It extends its influence to the permafrost, thawing it out to release potent greenhouse gases like methane, effectively worsening global warming.

Moreover, alterations in the Arctic impact our global weather patterns, sea levels, and diverse ecosystems. These changes can even interfere with jet streams, potentially causing extreme weather events in areas far from the Arctic.

As the Arctic warms, it presents substantial threats to indigenous communities, local wildlife, and the overall stability of Earth’s climate system. This makes the region a focal point of investigation for climate scientists worldwide.

Unseen footprints of Arctic warming

Recently, Annabel Payne and her co-researchers have taken significant strides in understanding the tides of the Arctic Ocean.

Their innovative approach uses radioactive isotopes as tracers to map the Atlantic water’s journey into the Arctic Ocean’s Canada Basin over several decades.

The team detected two radionuclides – iodine-129 and uranium-236 – in the Atlantic water, which nuclear reprocessing plants had released in minute quantities.

Payne stated, “These radionuclides are present in very small, but still traceable, quantities. They allow us to follow the path of Atlantic water as it moves into the Arctic Ocean over decades.”

Unraveling the water paths

The team deduced two distinct routes for Atlantic water entering the Canada Basin. One path crosses the Chukchi Plateau and Northwind Ridge, while the other follows the Chukchi Plateau’s edge.

Unearthing these routes gave researchers vital insights into understanding the intricate circulation patterns within the Arctic Ocean.

Furthermore, the study revealed a fascinating aspect of mixing between Pacific and Atlantic waters. According to Payne, “We found that about 25–40% of winter water from the Pacific Ocean contains markers of Atlantic water by the time it reaches the Canada Basin.”

Payne and her colleagues found that despite the rapid warming, the transit times for Atlantic waters into the Arctic have remained unchanged over the past 15 years, indicating a level of stability in these currents.

Arctic warming repercussions

This study has paved the way for using iodine-129 and uranium-236 as effective tracers of water masses in the Arctic Ocean. Payne envisions to expand the area of study to further understand the outflow to the Atlantic Ocean.

This could start unravelling the secrets of this rapidly shifting ocean and significantly enhance our knowledge of this rapidly changing region.

Despite the strides made by this research, it’s evident that vast amounts still remain to explore. As the Arctic continues to heat up at an alarming rate, studies like this become increasingly vital for our understanding of, and preparation for, the potential global impacts of these changes.

The use of radioactive isotopes as tracers of ocean currents showcases scientific innovation in decoding the secrets of our planet’s most distant and rapidly changing regions.

Each new discovery brings us one step closer to a comprehensive understanding of our global climate system and its future.

Fighting to understand our changing planet

The Arctic Ocean is more than just a frigid wilderness at the top of our planet. It’s a dynamic, rapidly changing environment that holds vital clues about our Earth’s climatic future.

The research led by Annabel Payne is an essential piece of the puzzle, shedding light on the complexities of Arctic ocean currents and the impacts of Arctic warming.

As we continue to uncover the mysteries of the Arctic, we empower ourselves with knowledge. In understanding the patterns of the past, we can predict and potentially mitigate the pressing challenges of our future, continuing our fight to comprehend and protect our incredible, dynamic planet.

The full study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates. 

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and


News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day