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Violent storms may shatter sea ice

Tall waves’ impact on frozen ocean hints at trouble in tempestuous future

By
1:41pm, May 28, 2014

FRAGILE ICE  Strong waves around Antarctica, unleashed by distant ocean storms, may break up packs of sea ice critical to global climate.

Towering waves that rise from cyclones can pummel the frigid waters around Antarctica, potentially wrecking sea ice critical to maintaining global climate. Because researchers predict climate change will bring more and stronger storms in the future, the thrashing swells could help ferry in an ice-free future.

Around Antarctica, sea ice is forming in some places and disappearing in others, says sea ice researcher Alison Kohout of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in Christchurch, New Zealand. Because the ice reflects the sun’s rays, thereby shielding Earth from solar heat, and because the ice also insulates the ocean below, the frozen rafts influence global temperatures, storms and ocean circulation. But, Kohout says, scientists don’t know enough about sea ice to predict its changes.

With colleagues, Kohout collected data that suggest that waves flung from ocean storms may be particularly damaging to sea ice. By collecting a ship's

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