Reduced Sea Ice Could Lead to Increased Atmospheric CO2

Written by on October 1, 2014 in Other News, Physical Oceanography
Arctic sea ice melt ponds.

Arctic sea ice melt ponds. Photo credit: NASA HQ PHOTO via photopin cc.

In case you need one, here’s another reason why we don’t want arctic sea ice to melt: sea ice removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so as ice cover decreases, we may experience an increase in atmospheric CO2.

Arctic sea ice is ice is getting thinner in winter and coverage has decreased by about 30 percent in summer. As Arctic summers to continue to get warmer, researchers warn that we may see an increase in global warming, because if there’s less sea ice, less CO2 will be removed from the atmosphere.

“We have long known that the Earth’s oceans are able to absorb huge amounts of CO2. But we also thought that this did not apply to ocean areas covered by ice, because the ice was considered impenetrable,” Dorte Haubjerg Søgaard, PhD Fellow at the Nordic Center for Earth Evolution, University of Southern Denmark and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources said in a news release. “However, this is not true: New research shows that sea ice in the Arctic draws large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere into the ocean.

This suggests that sea ice “plays a greater role than expected” and should be accounted for in future global CO2 budgets.

Sea ice removes CO2 from the atmosphere in two phases. First, in winter, crystals of calcium carbonate form in the sea ice. The calcium carbonate stays in the sea ice, while CO2 splits off and dissolves, sinking into deeper parts of the ocean. Then, in the summer when the sea ice melts, calcium carbonate dissolves in a process that involves more CO2.

Frost flowers. Photo credit: jzielcke via photopin cc.

Frost flowers. Photo credit: jzielcke via photopin cc.

“Thus, CO2 gets drawn from the atmosphere into the ocean – and therefore CO2 gets removed from the atmosphere,” Haubjerg Søgaard explained.

The research also revealed that ‘frost flowers’ (flower-like ice formations) found on the surface of newly formed sea ice hold extremely high concentrations of calcium carbonate, which could have a “significant impact” on CO2 uptake in the Arctic.

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Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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