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Maintenance of the Sea-Ice Edge

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  • 1 Polar Science Center, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
  • | 2 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
  • | 3 Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico
  • | 4 Polar Science Center, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

A coupled global climate model is used to evaluate processes that determine the equilibrium location of the sea-ice edge and its climatological annual cycle. The extent to which the wintertime ice edge departs from a symmetric ring around either pole depends primarily on coastlines, ice motion, and the melt rate at the ice–ocean interface. At any location the principal drivers of the oceanic heat flux that melts sea ice are absorbed solar radiation and the convergence of heat transported by ocean currents. The distance between the ice edge and the pole and the magnitude of the ocean heat flux convergence at the ice edge are inversely related. The chief exception to this rule is in the East Greenland Current, where the ocean heat flux convergence just east of the ice edge is relatively high but ice survives due to its swift southward motion and the protection of the cold southward-flowing surface water. In regions where the ice edge extends relatively far equatorward, absorbed solar radiation is the largest component of the ocean energy budget, and the large seasonal range of insolation causes the ice edge to traverse a large distance. In contrast, at relatively high latitudes, the ocean heat flux convergence is the largest component and it has a relatively small annual range, so the ice edge traverses a much smaller distance there. When the model is subject to increased CO2 forcing up to twice preindustrial levels, the ocean heat flux convergence weakens near the ice edge in most places. This weakening reduces the heat flux from the ocean to the base of the ice and tends to offset the effects of increased radiative forcing at the ice surface, so the ice edge retreats less than it would otherwise.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Cecilia M. Bitz, Polar Science Center, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th St., Seattle, WA 98105. Email: bitz@apl.washington.edu

Abstract

A coupled global climate model is used to evaluate processes that determine the equilibrium location of the sea-ice edge and its climatological annual cycle. The extent to which the wintertime ice edge departs from a symmetric ring around either pole depends primarily on coastlines, ice motion, and the melt rate at the ice–ocean interface. At any location the principal drivers of the oceanic heat flux that melts sea ice are absorbed solar radiation and the convergence of heat transported by ocean currents. The distance between the ice edge and the pole and the magnitude of the ocean heat flux convergence at the ice edge are inversely related. The chief exception to this rule is in the East Greenland Current, where the ocean heat flux convergence just east of the ice edge is relatively high but ice survives due to its swift southward motion and the protection of the cold southward-flowing surface water. In regions where the ice edge extends relatively far equatorward, absorbed solar radiation is the largest component of the ocean energy budget, and the large seasonal range of insolation causes the ice edge to traverse a large distance. In contrast, at relatively high latitudes, the ocean heat flux convergence is the largest component and it has a relatively small annual range, so the ice edge traverses a much smaller distance there. When the model is subject to increased CO2 forcing up to twice preindustrial levels, the ocean heat flux convergence weakens near the ice edge in most places. This weakening reduces the heat flux from the ocean to the base of the ice and tends to offset the effects of increased radiative forcing at the ice surface, so the ice edge retreats less than it would otherwise.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Cecilia M. Bitz, Polar Science Center, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th St., Seattle, WA 98105. Email: bitz@apl.washington.edu

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