Speed Reads

surf's up?

In the Arctic Ocean, researchers find big waves where there once was ice

For the first time, researchers were able to measure waves in the Arctic's Beaufort Sea due to melting ice caused by global warming.

"Waves could accelerate the ice retreat," Jim Thomson of the University of Washington told The Washington Post. "We don't have much direct evidence of this, or knowledge of the relative importance compared with melting, but the process is real. We are conducting a large project this summer to answer just that question."

The waves are measured by sensors under the surface, which transmit their recordings to satellites. Thomson and W. Erick Rogers of the Naval Research Laboratory recorded the waves in 2012, and wrote about their findings in Geophysical Research Letters this year. The average size of a wave was three to six feet, and the largest wave recorded was close to 29 feet.

"The observations reported here are the only known wave measurements in the central Beaufort Sea," they wrote, "because until recently the region remained ice covered throughout the summer and there were no waves to measure." The pair believe it is likely that ice will break down in the area so that eventually there will be an "ice-free summer, a remarkable departure from historical conditions in the Arctic, with potentially wide-ranging implications for the air-water-ice system and the humans attempting to operate there."