Researchers are measuring the frosty waves that crash upon Arctic shores for the first time, and they are getting some stunning numbers.
As described in a study recently published in Geophysical Journals, the Northern Hemisphere has been going through some major changes in the wake of climate change. Ice coverage in particular is continuing to shrink and researchers theorize that increasingly open expanses of water across the Arctic could lead to larger waves.
According to the study, during a moderate storm in 2012, a University of Washington researcher detected waves that were as tall as a house. Overall, the data showed mid-September waves of nearly 16 feet high during the peak of the storm - likely caused by high winds and open water released by melting ice.
"As the Arctic is melting, it's a pretty simple prediction that the additional open water should make waves," lead author Jim Thomson, an oceanographer with the UW Applied Physics Laboratory, explained in a recent release.
According to Thomson, Arctic ice retreat in 2012 was exceptionally severe - nearly 10 times what is traditionally seen, even in the wake of increased climate warming.
This is the same ice retreat that has recently opened up new Arctic trade routes for large-scale commercial shipping - namely the Northwest Passage through Canada and the Northern Sea Route. Ecologists have previously expressed concerns that these routes will unwittingly bring invasive species to Arctic harbors.
Now, however, Thomson raises another concern.
"Almost all of the casualties and losses at sea are because of stormy conditions, and breaking waves are often the culprit," he said.
He added that these waves could even accelerate ice break-up that is occurring in the Arctic, shrinking important ecosystems even more.
The researcher plans to head to Alaska's northern coast at the end of this month to deploy wave-tracking sensors, measuring their heights and affects on ice once more.
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