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Recent Changes in Arctic Sea Ice: The Interplay between Ice Dynamics and Thermodynamics

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  • 1 Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

It is well established that periods of high North Atlantic oscillation (NAO) index are characterized by a weakening of the surface high pressure and surface anticyclone in the Beaufort Sea and the intensification of the cyclonic circulation in the eastern Arctic Ocean. The response of Arctic sea ice to these atmospheric changes has been studied with a thickness distribution sea-ice model coupled to an ocean model. During a period of high NAO, 1989–96, the model shows a substantial reduction of ice advection into the eastern Arctic from the Canada Basin, and an increase of ice export through Fram Strait, both of which tend to deplete thick ice in the eastern Arctic Ocean and enhance it in the western Arctic, in an uneven dipolar pattern we call the East–West Arctic Anomaly Pattern (EWAAP). From the period 1979–88 with a lower-NAO index to the period 1988–96 with a high-NAO index, the simulated ice volume in the eastern Arctic drops by about a quarter, while that in the western Arctic increases by 16%. Overall, the Arctic Ocean loses 6%. The change from 1987 to 1996 is even larger—a loss of some 20% in ice volume for the whole Arctic. Both the model and satellite data show a significant reduction in ice extent in the eastern Arctic and in the Arctic Ocean as a whole.

There are corresponding changes in open water and therefore in ice growth, which tend to moderate the anomaly, and in lateral melting, which tends to enhance the anomaly. During the high NAO and strong EWAAP period, 1989–96, the eastern (western) Arctic has more (less) open water and enhanced (reduced) winter ice growth, so ice growth stabilizes the ice cover. On the other hand, the increased (decreased) open water enhances (reduces) summer melt by lowering (increasing) albedo in the eastern (western) Arctic. The nonlinearity of ice– albedo feedback causes the increased summer melt in the eastern Arctic to dominate the thermodynamic response and to collaborate with the ice advection pattern to enhance the EWAAP during high NAO.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Jinlun Zhang, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th Street, Seattle, WA 98105-6698.

Email: zhang@apl.washington.edu

Abstract

It is well established that periods of high North Atlantic oscillation (NAO) index are characterized by a weakening of the surface high pressure and surface anticyclone in the Beaufort Sea and the intensification of the cyclonic circulation in the eastern Arctic Ocean. The response of Arctic sea ice to these atmospheric changes has been studied with a thickness distribution sea-ice model coupled to an ocean model. During a period of high NAO, 1989–96, the model shows a substantial reduction of ice advection into the eastern Arctic from the Canada Basin, and an increase of ice export through Fram Strait, both of which tend to deplete thick ice in the eastern Arctic Ocean and enhance it in the western Arctic, in an uneven dipolar pattern we call the East–West Arctic Anomaly Pattern (EWAAP). From the period 1979–88 with a lower-NAO index to the period 1988–96 with a high-NAO index, the simulated ice volume in the eastern Arctic drops by about a quarter, while that in the western Arctic increases by 16%. Overall, the Arctic Ocean loses 6%. The change from 1987 to 1996 is even larger—a loss of some 20% in ice volume for the whole Arctic. Both the model and satellite data show a significant reduction in ice extent in the eastern Arctic and in the Arctic Ocean as a whole.

There are corresponding changes in open water and therefore in ice growth, which tend to moderate the anomaly, and in lateral melting, which tends to enhance the anomaly. During the high NAO and strong EWAAP period, 1989–96, the eastern (western) Arctic has more (less) open water and enhanced (reduced) winter ice growth, so ice growth stabilizes the ice cover. On the other hand, the increased (decreased) open water enhances (reduces) summer melt by lowering (increasing) albedo in the eastern (western) Arctic. The nonlinearity of ice– albedo feedback causes the increased summer melt in the eastern Arctic to dominate the thermodynamic response and to collaborate with the ice advection pattern to enhance the EWAAP during high NAO.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Jinlun Zhang, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th Street, Seattle, WA 98105-6698.

Email: zhang@apl.washington.edu

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