Scientists said that waters at the northern end of the Gulf Stream, between Greenland and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard (see map below right), averaged 6 degrees Celsius (42.80F) in recent summers, warmer than at natural peaks during Roman or Medieval times.
"The temperature is unprecedented in the past 2,000 years," lead author Robert Spielhagen of the Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature in Mainz, Germany, stated of the study in Friday's (January 28, 2011) edition of the journal Science.
The summer water temperatures, reconstructed from the makeup of tiny organisms buried in sediments in the Fram strait, have risen from an average 5.2 degrees Celsius (41.36F) from 1890-2007 and about 3.4C (38.12F) in the previous 1,900 years.
The findings were a new sign that human activities were stoking modern warming since temperatures are above past warm periods linked to swings in the sun's output that enabled, for instance, the Vikings to farm in Greenland in Medieval times. (There is one archaeological site that was a Viking farm in Greenland over 500 years ago - discovered when some caribou hunters stumbled across it in 1991 - see left).
"We found that modern Fram Strait water temperatures are well outside the natural bounds," Thomas Marchitto, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, one of the authors, said in a statement.
The Fram strait is the main carrier of ocean heat to the Arctic (right).
The authors wrote that the warming temperatures "are presumably linked to the Arctic amplification of global warming" and that the warming "is most likely another key element in the transition to a future ice-free Arctic Ocean." (At left: Little ice left in Fram Strait)
Ice on the Arctic Ocean shrank to its lowest on record in 2007 and many experts expect the ocean will be ice-free in summers in coming decades, a threat to the hunting livelihoods of indigenous peoples and to creatures such as polar bears.
The Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the global average as part of a trend the U.N. panel of climate scientists blames on a build-up of greenhouse gases from mankind's use of fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars.
The shrinking of reflective ice and snow in the Arctic region exposes water or ground which are darker colored and so soak up more heat from the sun, amplifying warming.
Reuters,"Arctic current warmer than for 2,000 years: study", accessed January 29, 2011