A Moment of Science

Freshwater Lake Forming In Arctic Ocean, Environmentalists Worried

An ocean is the last place you'd expect to find a freshwater lake...

freshwater ponds

Photo: NASA Goddard Photo and Video (Flickr)

Freshwater ponds form in the Arctic Ocean.

An ocean is the last place you’d expect to find a freshwater lake.

As strange as it may seem, the Arctic Ocean is home to a lake roughly twice the size of Lake Victoria, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. This arctic lake is located in the Beaufort Gyre, an area near northwestern Canada where the water circulates in a clockwise pattern.

Mixing Water

Normally, as rivers empty into an ocean, fresh water mixes with the salty ocean water. Over the last decade, scientists have discovered that arctic river water and melting sea ice have pooled with little mixing.

The growing pond isn’t entirely salt free, but its size and stability have scientists worried.

Adapting To Change

Most marine organisms are adapted to the ocean’s salt concentration. Just as humans cannot drink saltwater, plankton and other small marine creatures floating with the currents cannot survive in fresh water.

These organisms form the base of the arctic food chain. If they die, the small fish that feed on them die. Larger fish and mammals that feed on the small fish also lose their food source. Even the mighty polar bear would be at risk of starvation.

Impact On Earth’s Climate

The freshwater lake could have an even larger impact on Earth’s climate if it emptied into the North Atlantic quickly. Ocean currents that move heat around the globe are sensitive to saltwater concentrations. Because fresh water floats on top of saltier water, a large influx of fresh water could slow the currents and alter temperature and weather patterns.

At the present time, the arctic lake’s size is equivalent to the amount of fresh water the Atlantic receives in a year. It isn’t a threat to global climate now, but it’s an important lake for scientists to watch.

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