Arctic Ocean now less salty

Arctic Ocean now less salty

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A new study has shown that the Arctic Ocean is becoming less salty due to an increase in the volume of freshwater flowing into it.

Bering strait, image taken by MISR satellite
Bering strait, image taken by MISR satellite

Researchers have found that the Arctic Ocean is becoming less salty, because the amount of freshwater flowing through the Bering Strait into it has increased by 40 to 50 percent, over the past 30 years.

This finding is based on a new study by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. According to lead author Lee Cooper, “This could have a lot of downstream implications for how the Arctic Ocean works and connects with climate and related processes, including the intensity of mixing in the North Atlantic.”   

As the Bering Strait is the single largest point source of freshwater to the Arctic Ocean, the change in saltiness can affect ice formation, regional and global circulation, and ecosystems.

According to a press release, less saline water freezes faster and is less likely to mix with deep water, resulting in less nutrient-rich deeper water being upwelled, and subsequently lowering biological productivity. It may also affect deep water mixing in the North Atlantic that is climate-sensitive.

To obtain the necessary data, researchers had assessed the level of saltiness by using a new tracer approach to look at the oxygen isotope composition of more than a thousand water samples from the Bering and Chukchi shelves.

The findings of the study was published in a special issue of PLOS One.