Arctic warming and diminishing sea ice are influencing atmosphere

Researchers of the University of Helsinki have resolved for the first time, how the environment affects the formation of nanoparticles in the Arctic. The results give additional insight into the future of melting sea ice and the Arctic atmosphere.

The researchers of the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth system research at the University of Helsinki have investigated how atmospheric particles are formed in the Arctic. Until recent studies, the molecular processes of particle formation in the high Arctic remained a mystery.

During their expeditions to the Arctic, the scientists collected measurements for 12 months in total. The results of the extensive research project were recently published in the Geophysical Research Letters journal.

The researchers discovered that atmospheric vapors, particles, and cloud formation have clear differences within various Arctic environments. The study clarifies how Arctic warming and sea ice loss strengthens processes where different vapors are emitted to the atmosphere. The thinning of sea ice enables more iodine emissions while broader open waters enable more emissions of sulfur-containing vapors.

Higher concentrations of vapors result in a higher amount of particles. This on the other hand will lead to more clouds, which can – depending on the season and location – either slow down or accelerate the Arctic warming. Detailed knowledge of these processes is crucial in order to understand the consequences of global warming.

“Our observations are contributing to further understanding of what happens in the Arctic atmosphere due to warming. In general, atmospheric particles and clouds play an important role in regulating the atmosphere’s temperature, and any changing behavior of these has consequences on Arctic warming. Arctic areas are especially sensitive to changes in cloudiness and albedo”, says Lisa Beck, a doctoral student at the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR).

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