Rapid Arctic Sea Ice Loss Increases the “Atlantification” of the Fram Strait

Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 18 February 2022

The Fram Strait is the main waterway connecting the central Arctic Ocean to the Nordic Seas. Currents flowing along the Strait’s western side carry nearly 90% of all sea ice export out of the Arctic Ocean. As global temperatures rise, they accelerate the loss of ice, triggering a series of upstream processes that has decreased the amount of Arctic freshwater flowing through the Strait by 15% compared to its long-term average. In 2015, the layers of cold polar freshwater near the surface of the Fram Strait thinned by 40-50 meters and abruptly shifted 10 kilometers westward, increasing the amount of warmer, saltier Atlantic water flowing into the waterway. At the same time, the speed of Arctic water flowing along the western side of the Fram Strait slowed by two-thirds, stacking layers of increasingly salty water on top of each other in the waterway. Together, these and other factors have combined to increase the “Atlantification” of the region. These findings emphasize the rapid and interconnected changes occurring in the Arctic in response to climate change, including the far-reaching consequences of an intensifying water cycle.