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A Possible Link between the Weddell Polynya and the Southern Annular Mode

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  • 1 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, New York
  • | 2 Leibniz-Institut for Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR), Kiel, Germany
  • | 3 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
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Abstract

Shortly after the advent of the first imaging passive microwave sensor on board a research satellite an anomalous climate feature was observed within the Weddell Sea. During the years 1974–1976, a 250 × 103 km2 area within the seasonal sea ice cover was virtually free of winter sea ice. This feature, the Weddell Polynya, was created as sea ice formation was inhibited by ocean convection that injected relatively warm deep water into the surface layer. Though smaller, less persistent polynyas associated with topographically induced upwelling at Maud Rise frequently form in the area, there has not been a reoccurrence of the Weddell Polynya since 1976. Archived observations of the surface layer salinity within the Weddell gyre suggest that the Weddell Polynya may have been induced by a prolonged period of negative Southern Annular Mode (SAM). During negative SAM the Weddell Sea experiences colder and drier atmospheric conditions, making for a saltier surface layer with reduced pycnocline stability. This condition enables Maud Rise upwelling to trigger sustained deep-reaching convection associated with the polynya. Since the late 1970s SAM has been close to neutral or in a positive state, resulting in warmer, wetter conditions over the Weddell Sea, forestalling repeat of the Weddell Polynya. A contributing factor to the Weddell Polynya initiation may have been a La Niña condition, which is associated with increased winter sea ice formation in the polynya area. If the surface layer is made sufficiently salty due to a prolonged negative SAM period, perhaps aided by La Niña, then Maud Rise upwelling meets with positive feedback, triggering convection, and a winter persistent Weddell Polynya.

* Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Contribution Number 6997

Corresponding author address: Arnold Gordon, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, NY 10964-8000. Email: agordon@ldeo.columbia.edu

Abstract

Shortly after the advent of the first imaging passive microwave sensor on board a research satellite an anomalous climate feature was observed within the Weddell Sea. During the years 1974–1976, a 250 × 103 km2 area within the seasonal sea ice cover was virtually free of winter sea ice. This feature, the Weddell Polynya, was created as sea ice formation was inhibited by ocean convection that injected relatively warm deep water into the surface layer. Though smaller, less persistent polynyas associated with topographically induced upwelling at Maud Rise frequently form in the area, there has not been a reoccurrence of the Weddell Polynya since 1976. Archived observations of the surface layer salinity within the Weddell gyre suggest that the Weddell Polynya may have been induced by a prolonged period of negative Southern Annular Mode (SAM). During negative SAM the Weddell Sea experiences colder and drier atmospheric conditions, making for a saltier surface layer with reduced pycnocline stability. This condition enables Maud Rise upwelling to trigger sustained deep-reaching convection associated with the polynya. Since the late 1970s SAM has been close to neutral or in a positive state, resulting in warmer, wetter conditions over the Weddell Sea, forestalling repeat of the Weddell Polynya. A contributing factor to the Weddell Polynya initiation may have been a La Niña condition, which is associated with increased winter sea ice formation in the polynya area. If the surface layer is made sufficiently salty due to a prolonged negative SAM period, perhaps aided by La Niña, then Maud Rise upwelling meets with positive feedback, triggering convection, and a winter persistent Weddell Polynya.

* Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Contribution Number 6997

Corresponding author address: Arnold Gordon, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, NY 10964-8000. Email: agordon@ldeo.columbia.edu

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