Warm water trapped below the surface of the Arctic seas north of Canada could potentially leave the entire area free of ice, scientists say.
In findings published in the journal Science Advances, researchers at Yale University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution reported they studied data collected over the past 30 years and found the "heat content" of the area had doubled.
According to the U.K.-based Independent, large areas of the polar expanse are changing dramatically every year – with sea ice vanishing far earlier in the season, and ships taking advantage of the newly ice-free oceans.
But the effect could be exacerbated in one of the Arctic Ocean's major regions – known as the Canadian Basin – by the influx of warmer water that originated hundreds of miles away and penetrated deep below the ice pack's surface.
That is where the latest research focuses, with scientists reporting they traced this water to the Chukchi Sea further south, where the regional decline in sea ice has left water very exposed to the summer sun.
After heating up, this water has been driven north by Arctic winds, but remained below the top layer of water – a high-temperature zone literally trapped beneath the ice pack.
"This means the effects of sea-ice loss are not limited to the ice-free regions themselves, but also lead to increased heat accumulation in the interior of the Arctic Ocean that can have climate effects well beyond the summer season," said study leader and Yale geologist Professor Mary-Louise Timmermans, the Independent reported.
"Presently this heat is trapped below the surface layer. Should it be mixed up to the surface, there is enough heat to entirely melt the sea-ice pack that covers this region for most of the year."
The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global average, the Independent reported — and last year, scientists recorded the lowest ever measurements for maximum winter sea ice cover across the Arctic, and the second warmest air temperatures on record.
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