Huge Waves Measured for First Time in Arctic Ocean

By W. Erick Rogers
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
J. Thomson / University of Washington

As the climate warms and sea ice retreats, the North is changing. An ice-covered expanse now has a season of increasingly open water which is predicted to extend across the whole Arctic Ocean before the middle of this century. Storms thus have the potential to create Arctic swell – huge waves that could add a new and unpredictable element to the region.

A University of Washington researcher made the first study of waves in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, and detected house-sized waves during a September 2012 storm. The results were recently published in Geophysical Research Letters.

"As the Arctic is melting, it's a pretty simple prediction that the additional open water should make waves," said lead author Jim Thomson, an oceanographer with the UW Applied Physics Laboratory .

His data show that winds in mid-September 2012 created waves of 5 meters (16 feet) high during the peak of the storm. The research also traces the sources of those big waves: high winds, which have always howled through the Arctic, combined with the new reality of open water in summer.

Arctic ice used to retreat less than 100 miles from the shore. In 2012, it retreated more than 1,000 miles. Wind blowing across an expanse of water for a long time creates whitecaps, then small waves, which then slowly consolidate into big swells that carry huge amounts of energy in a single punch.

The size of the waves increases with the fetch, or travel distance over open water. So more open water means bigger waves. As waves grow bigger they also catch more wind, driving them faster and with more energy.

Shipping and oil companies have been eyeing the opportunity of an ice-free season in the Arctic Ocean. The emergence of big waves in the Arctic could be bad news for operating in newly ice-free Northern waters.

"Almost all of the casualties and losses at sea are because of stormy conditions, and breaking waves are often the culprit," Thomson said.

It also could be a new feedback loop leading to more open water as bigger waves break up the remaining summer ice floes.

"The melting has been going on for decades. What we're talking about with the waves is potentially a new process, a mechanical process, in which the waves can push and pull and crash to break up the ice," Thomson said.

Waves breaking on the shore could also affect the coastlines, where melting permafrost is already making shores more vulnerable to erosion.

The observations were made as part of a bigger project by a sensor anchored to the seafloor and sitting 50 meters (more than 150 feet) below the surface in the middle of the Beaufort Sea, about 350 miles off Alaska's north slope and at the middle of the ice-free summer water. It measured wave height from mid-August until late October 2012.

Satellites can give a rough estimate of wave heights, but they don't give precise numbers for storm events. They also don't do well for the sloppy, partially ice-covered waters that are common in the Arctic in summer.

Warming temperatures and bigger waves could act together on summer ice floes, Thomson said: "At this point, we don't really know relative importance of these processes in future scenarios."

Establishing that relationship could help to predict what will happen to the sea ice in the future and help forecast how long the ice-free channel will remain open each year.

The recent paper recorded waves at just one place. This summer Thomson is part of an international group led by the UW that is putting dozens of sensors in the Arctic Ocean to better understand the physics of the sea-ice retreat.

"There are several competing theories for what happens when the waves approach and get in to the ice," Thomson said. "A big part of what we're doing with this program is evaluating those models."

He will be out on Alaska's northern coast from late July until mid-August deploying sensors to track waves. He hopes to learn how wave heights are affected by the weather, ice conditions and amount of open water.

"It's going to be a quantum leap in terms of the number of observations, the level of detail and the level of precision" for measuring Arctic Ocean waves, Thomson said.

The other author is W. Erick Rogers at the Naval Research Laboratory. The research was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

 

Maritime Reporter September 2014 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Environmental

IBIA Welcomes MEPC Bunker Compromise

The compromise solution on the issue of ensuring bunker quality agreed at the 67th meeting of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 67) has been

Interferry Applauds IMO Consideration of BWTS Exemption

Interferry has praised a decision made at last week’s meeting of the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) that could exempt certain ferry operators

MEPC Makes Progress on Energy Efficiency, Emissions

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) met for its 67th session from October 13-17, 2014, at IMO Headquarters in London.

News

Transas to Supply TechSim Solutions to SUNY Maritime

The Navsim Services and Transas Americas Team, have been awarded contracts for supply of a combination of full mission, classroom and cloud based Transas Technical

FMT Options for another Towboat from Eastern

Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc. announce that Florida Marine Transporters, Inc. of Mandeville, La. exercised another additional 90’x32’x10’ “Canal Class” Inland

US Warns of Sanctions on Buyers of Islamic State Oil

The Obama administration on Thursday threatened to slap sanctions on anyone buying oil from Islamic State militants in an effort to disrupt what it said was a $1-million-a-day funding source.

Marine Science

Bright Outlook for BWM Convention

The Danish Maritime Authority informed that the Ballast Water Management Convention is now one step closer to ratification following last week’s meeting of United

Nordic Wins with Noble

Nordic Maritime, a leading offshore service operator, today announced a five year time charter for its DP2 IMR Subsea vessel, Mokul Nordic, which has been awarded by Noble Energy,

Pemex Suspends Eviction of Workers in Campeche

Due to the behavior shown by the low pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico, whose career was diverted in the last hours, the Technical Analysis Group Emergency

Arctic Operations

MEPC Makes Progress on Energy Efficiency, Emissions

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) met for its 67th session from October 13-17, 2014, at IMO Headquarters in London.

Lavrov: No need for NATO in the Arctic

During the open lecture on Russia’s foreign policy, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that he could see no need for NATO presence in the Arctic. ‘From time to time,

Maritime Reporter @ 75: The Daily Cartoon

Maritime Reporter & Engineering News was founded by John J. O'Malley (1905-1980) in 1939, and today ranks as the world's largest audited trade publication in the world serving the maritime industry,

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Maritime Standards Naval Architecture Navigation Offshore Oil Pipelines Pod Propulsion Ship Simulators Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | terms and conditions | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.1109 sec (9 req/sec)