Ocean data from Northeast Greenland has shown, for the first time, an increase in freshwater content in Greenland fjords which could affect global ocean currents that keep Europe warm, science news website Science Daily reported, on the basis of a study published online in journal Nature, Scientific Reports on October 13 this year.
Researchers at Aarhus University, Denmark presented 13-year time series data in the journal, showing how melting ice affects water off the coast of Northeast Greenland.
"Over the years, the dramatic meltdown of ice in the Arctic Ocean has received great attention and is easy to observe via satellite images. Also, glaciers have been observed to melt and retreat and the researchers know that today's meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet has more than doubled compared with the period 1983-2003. How the increased influx of fresh water will affect the marine environment is, however, largely unknown," Science Daily reported.
The 'Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring Programme' has been measuring the melt since 2003 in Northeast Greenland. This measurement tells a clear tale of fresh water from the ice sheet accumulating in the surface layers of the surrounding sea and flowing into Greenland fjords, the paper said.
At the point where measurements were made, Young Sound, and the sea around it, calculating from the decrease in salinity, scientists estimated that the ice melt had resulted in an increase "equivalent to freshwater content from approximately 1 m in 2003 to almost 4 m in 2015!"
Science Daily explained: "More fresh water in the surface water layers makes it harder for the nutrient-rich bottom water to rise to the upper layers where the sunlight ensures the production of plankton algae in summer."
Plankton algae form the basis of all life in the sea. Lower algae production would mean lesser fish. "Today, fishing constitutes approximately 88% of Greenland's exports," Science Daily said.
The melting of the ice sheet in Northeast Greenland is significantly lower than in southern and western Greenland. So the effects may actually be far more dramatic in other parts of the Greenland coastal waters than in Young Sound, the researchers behind this study point out.
On a global scale, this increase in sea level may impact ocean circulation patterns through what is called the 'thermohaline circulation' - this is what sustains the Gulf Stream, for instance, the swift Atlantic ocean current that keeps Europe warm.