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Melting Greenland Ice Sheet Could Impact Global Ocean Circulation

First Posted: Jan 22, 2016 02:34 PM EST

Researchers found that an "influx" of fresh water from the melting Greenland ice sheet is refreshing the North Atlantic Ocean and it can also obstruct the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which is a global ocean circulation element, according to a study. This influx could have major effects on areas in Europe and North America.

"We derived a new estimate of recent freshwater flux from Greenland...The data suggest that the influx of freshwater from Greenland is accelerating, and has changed the Labrador Sea in ways that could lead to a weakening of the AMOC," Tim Dixon, coauthor of the study, said in a news release.

Greenland's fresh water flux comprises of ice and tundra runoffs along with ice discharge from icebergs. The researchers found that the Greenland freshwater flux has been increasing and could weaken AMOC, which will have local and global effects.

"Focused freshwater flux into the Labrador Sea has the potential to increase the buoyancy of surface waters and reduce formation of dense, deep water that helps drive the overturning circulation," said Don Chambers, coauthor of the study.

The researchers claimed that it is difficult to measure changes in the AMOC. The global impacts of AMOC are less certain, however, the consequences are more alarming. The researchers noted that long term observations are still necessary in order to fully understand the potential effects of the freshwater influx.

"The AMOC and Gulf Stream are part of a complex global ocean circulation system that is still not completely understood," Dixon said. "If human activities are starting to impact this system, it is a worrying sign that the scale of human impacts on the climate system may be reaching a critical point."

The findings of this study were published in Nature Communications.

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