Melting Arctic ice that flows into the Labrador Sea could affect the climate along the Labrador coast, and elsewhere in the North Atlantic, new research suggests.
A study spearheaded by the University of Washington found increasing levels in the flow of fresh water into the Labrador Sea between 2004 and 2007, although the research also found that the trend reversed in 2008.
"We see this small trend towards fresher waters coming out, but we're not certain if it's a large-scale trend yet," said oceanographer Craig Lee, who headed the research project.
Lee said more fresh water would slow down the Labrador Current, which flows south along the Labrador coast. Water density changes in the Labrador Sea could also affect the Gulf Stream, a transatlantic current that brings warm temperatures to northern Europe.
Norman Anderson, a hunter and former Department of Fisheries and Oceans officer in Nain, said Labrador's northern coast is already seeing the effects of a changing climate.
"It means a lot [because of] the migration of the seals and white beluga whales," said Anderson, describing the Labrador Current.
At one time, Anderson said, the Labrador Current ran at about nine knots. In recent years, he said, that has slowed to less than eight knots.
Anderson said people in Nain are already living with effects. For example, he said the "rattles" — places that don't freeze over in the winter because of the movement of currents — are getting smaller.
"Our rattles are not so big as they used to be in the wintertime, you know," he said.
Anderson said the changes mean fewer opportunities for people in Nain to pick mussels and hunt seals the way they once did.