Et Tu, Ocean?: The Role of the Sea in Melting the Arctic

Et Tu, Ocean?

The role of the sea in melting the Arctic.

Published February 2, 2016
Part of our 16 Best of 2016 series

The Earth’s iconic Arctic ice cap is melting. Scientists now think we can expect ice-free northern summers by the middle of this century. This “meltdown” is one of our planet’s most obvious and dramatic symptoms of global warming.

Climate change evokes sweltering temperatures in the atmosphere. But in the Arctic, the unprecedented ice melt isn’t caused by warming air—or at least not much of it. Instead, the ocean itself is largely driving the phenomenon.

New research from Canadian scientists delves deep into the ocean’s complexities and how the effects of currents, wind, ice, and salinity work together to accelerate this melting from beneath—creating a feedback loop that heralds a fresher, warmer, and more dynamic “New Arctic.”

In this animation, we summarize the role played by the ocean itself in shrinking the Arctic ice cap.