Arctic ice melt may cause “bromine explosion,” depleting ozone and releasing mercury

By The State Column

A new study conducted by NASA finds that Arctic ice is melting at a rate far faster than previously expected, increasing the rate of release of a number of deadly chemicals.

The study, published and conducted by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, finds the oldest and thickest arctic sea ice is disappearing faster than younger and thinner ice at the edges, leading to the release of certain chemicals.

The average thickness of the arctic sea ice cover is declining because it is rapidly losing its thick component, the multiyear ice,” said NASA scientists in a statement. “At the same time, the surface temperature in the arctic is going up, which results in a shorter ice-forming season.

NASA officials found that the extent of perennial ice, ice that has survived at least one summer, is shrinking at a rate of 12.2 percent per decade, while its area is declining at a rate of 13.5 percent per decade. The rate of melt is the highest yet recorded by NASA.

The study is the first to identify older sea ice as more vulnerable than new sea ice. Older sea ice usually survives the summer, rebuilding on itself as winter arrives.

Among the issues identified by NASA includes an accelerating release of chemicals into the atmosphere. Drastic reductions in Arctic sea ice in the last decade may intensify the chemical release of bromine into the atmosphere, resulting in ground-level ozone depletion and the deposit of toxic mercury in the Arctic, said NASA researchers.

The study was launched with the aim of examining the nature of bromine explosions, which were first observed more than 20 years ago in Canada’s Arctic regions. The scientists “wanted to find if the explosions occur in the troposphere or higher in the stratosphere,” said NASA scientists.

The climate scientists said that melting Arctic sea ice is being replaced by a thinner and saltier ice, which releases bromine into the air when it interacts with sunlight and cold. That in turn triggers a chemical reaction called a “bromine explosion” that turns gaseous mercury in the atmosphere into a toxic pollutant that falls on snow, land and ice and can accumulate in fish.

The study is likely to rekindle the debate on limiting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air. Already a number of various international agencies have sought to curtail the release of deadly compounds related to global warming, warning that an increase in the average temperature of the earth could have unforeseen consequences.

“Shrinking summer sea ice has drawn much attention to exploiting Arctic resources and improving maritime trading routes,” said the U.S. space agency. “But the change in sea ice composition also has impacts on the environment. Changing conditions in the Arctic might increase bromine explosions in the future.”

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