A freshwater bulge is building in the Arctic Ocean, causing the sea level to rise, according to a new study published in Nature Geoscience Journal.
The water level has risen almost 6 inches since 2002, and is believed to be caused by strong winds stirring up a clockwise current in the northern polar region called the Beaufort Gyre, BBC News reported.
More than 70,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater are stored in the upper layer of the Arctic Ocean, according to the study, which was conducted by British scientists.
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Most of the freshwater that is accumulating originates from the rivers running off the Russian side of the Arctic basin, according to the BBC. Winds and currents have moved this freshwater around the ocean and pulled it into the gyre.
The volume held in the circulation accounts for about 10 percent of all the freshwater in the Arctic, BBC reported.
"Satellite data has shown us that a dome of fresh water has been building up in the western Arctic over the past 15 years, due to the wind," Doctor Katharine Giles, the lead author of the study, told reporters. "Our findings suggest that a reversal of the wind could result in the release of this freshwater to the rest of the Arctic Ocean and even beyond."
If the water spills out to the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans, it could have major effects on weather patterns, according to Planet Earth Online, a publication by the National Environment Research Council. The shift in water movement could cool Europe by "slowing down a key ocean current derived from the Gulf Stream, which keeps the continent relatively mild compared with countries at similar latitudes," Planet Earth reported.
The researchers discovered the bulge with European Space Agency (ESA) satellites. They measured sea-surface height over the western Arctic over a 15-year period, from 1995 to 2010, according to the study.
"Our next step is to look into how changes in the sea-ice cover might affect the coupling between the atmosphere and the ocean in more detail to see if we can confirm this idea [of the wind's effect on the ocean]," said Dr. Giles.