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Ecologists use oceanographic data to predict future climate change
Date:11/7/2008

Ecologists and oceanographers are attempting to predict the future impacts of climate change by reconstructing the past behavior of Arctic climate and ocean circulation.

In a November special issue of the journal Ecology, a group of scientists report that if current patterns of change in the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans continue, alterations of ocean circulation could occur on a global scale, with potentially dramatic implications for the world's climate and biosphere.

"This research presents a compelling example of how climate change has altered marine ecosystems," said David Garrison, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Biological Oceanography Program, which funded the research. "It illustrates the value of basic research in understanding the underlying mechanisms and consequences of rapid climate change."

Charles Greene of Cornell University and colleagues reconstructed the patterns of climate change in the Arctic from the Paleocene epoch to the present.

Over these 65 million years, the Earth has undergone several major warming and cooling episodes, which were largely mitigated by the expansion and contraction of sea ice in the Arctic.

"When the Arctic cools and ice sheets and sea ice expand, the increased ice cover increases albedo, or reflectance of the sun's rays by the ice," says Greene, the lead author on the paper. "When more of the sun is reflected rather than absorbed, this leads to global cooling."

Likewise, when ice sheets and sea ice contract and expose the darker-colored land or ocean underneath, heat is absorbed, accelerating climate warming.

Currently, the Earth is in the midst of an interglacial period, characterized by retracted ice sheets and warmer temperatures.

In the past three decades, changes in Arctic climate and ice cover have led to several reorganizations of northern ocean circulation patterns.

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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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