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Melt Ponds Accelerate Ice Melting More Than Previously Thought

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Arctic_Melt_PondsThis month, ice physicists at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) have published their findings on light transmission through the Arctic sea ice in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Researchers found that more sunlight, and therefore energy, penetrates the areas where melt water collects on the ice that. The consequence? Faster melting occurs since the ice is absorbing more solar heat and provides more light to the ecosystems in and below the ice.

The thickness of melt ponds, which are often represented quixotically by photographers in the Arctic, determines their color. Melt ponds with thicker ice are usually turquoise while thin melt ponds are often blue or black in color.

In the past few years, researchers have noticed the number of melt ponds during the summer months is increasing – drastically, and they attribute this observation to climate change. Thick multi-year ice is very scarce, and now at least 50% of the ice is young and the melt water is widespread. Multi-year ice is thick and rough, while young ice is smooth, which causes the melt water to spread over large areas, thereby forming more individual melt ponds.

As climate change has more and more on an impact on the globe, ice physicists are concerned about the acceleration rate at which the melt ponds are appearing. They predict that future climate change will increase the amount of sunlight that reaches the Arctic Ocean and will affect the sea ice during the summer months. More melt ponds will then form, the sea ice will become more porous, more sunlight will penetrate ice floes, and the water temperature will increase.

The one thing ice physicists are uncertain about his how, exactly, the acceleration of the entire sea ice area will affect organisms in and beneath the ice since these organisms will have to adjust to an entirely different level of brightness and temperature.

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