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Salinity in the North Atlantic dropped dramatically over the last decade, according to a new study that used data from a floating network of sensors to get the most detailed picture yet of changing ocean conditions in the region.
But researchers say it's too soon to say whether the decline is due to an influx of freshwater from melting ice on land or sea, or part of a natural, longer term cycle. A research team at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Johns Hopkins University published the results in the Journal of Climate's April issue.
Salinity - Gram - Salt - Kilogram - Seawater
Between 2004 and 2015, salinity fell by as much as half a gram of salt per kilogram of seawater in the sub-polar North Atlantic, a region that includes the Labrador Sea dividing Canada and western Greenland. That's the equivalent of diluting the area with 5,000 cubic kilometers of freshwater, says the study's lead author Jan-Erik Tesdal, a PhD student at Columbia.
Though many forces cause salinity to rise and fall, the researchers attribute the immediate cause for the decline to changes in ocean circulation. A large system of circulating currents that deliver freshwater to the region, the sub-polar gyre, appears to be moving faster, propelled by stronger winds tied to the North Atlantic Oscillation climate pattern.
Changes - Context - Salinity - Kilometers - Freshwater
To put the changes in context, salinity fell twice as much in the early 1970s, equivalent to about 10,000 square kilometers of freshwater flooding the...
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