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Increasing Antarctic Sea Ice under Warming Atmospheric and Oceanic Conditions

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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

Estimates of sea ice extent based on satellite observations show an increasing Antarctic sea ice cover from 1979 to 2004 even though in situ observations show a prevailing warming trend in both the atmosphere and the ocean. This riddle is explored here using a global multicategory thickness and enthalpy distribution sea ice model coupled to an ocean model. Forced by the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis data, the model simulates an increase of 0.20 × 1012 m3 yr−1 (1.0% yr−1) in total Antarctic sea ice volume and 0.084 × 1012 m2 yr−1 (0.6% yr−1) in sea ice extent from 1979 to 2004 when the satellite observations show an increase of 0.027 × 1012 m2 yr−1 (0.2% yr−1) in sea ice extent during the same period. The model shows that an increase in surface air temperature and downward longwave radiation results in an increase in the upper-ocean temperature and a decrease in sea ice growth, leading to a decrease in salt rejection from ice, in the upper-ocean salinity, and in the upper-ocean density. The reduced salt rejection and upper-ocean density and the enhanced thermohaline stratification tend to suppress convective overturning, leading to a decrease in the upward ocean heat transport and the ocean heat flux available to melt sea ice. The ice melting from ocean heat flux decreases faster than the ice growth does in the weakly stratified Southern Ocean, leading to an increase in the net ice production and hence an increase in ice mass. This mechanism is the main reason why the Antarctic sea ice has increased in spite of warming conditions both above and below during the period 1979–2004 and the extended period 1948–2004.

Corresponding author address: Jinlun Zhang, Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98105. Email: zhang@apl.washington.edu

Abstract

Estimates of sea ice extent based on satellite observations show an increasing Antarctic sea ice cover from 1979 to 2004 even though in situ observations show a prevailing warming trend in both the atmosphere and the ocean. This riddle is explored here using a global multicategory thickness and enthalpy distribution sea ice model coupled to an ocean model. Forced by the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis data, the model simulates an increase of 0.20 × 1012 m3 yr−1 (1.0% yr−1) in total Antarctic sea ice volume and 0.084 × 1012 m2 yr−1 (0.6% yr−1) in sea ice extent from 1979 to 2004 when the satellite observations show an increase of 0.027 × 1012 m2 yr−1 (0.2% yr−1) in sea ice extent during the same period. The model shows that an increase in surface air temperature and downward longwave radiation results in an increase in the upper-ocean temperature and a decrease in sea ice growth, leading to a decrease in salt rejection from ice, in the upper-ocean salinity, and in the upper-ocean density. The reduced salt rejection and upper-ocean density and the enhanced thermohaline stratification tend to suppress convective overturning, leading to a decrease in the upward ocean heat transport and the ocean heat flux available to melt sea ice. The ice melting from ocean heat flux decreases faster than the ice growth does in the weakly stratified Southern Ocean, leading to an increase in the net ice production and hence an increase in ice mass. This mechanism is the main reason why the Antarctic sea ice has increased in spite of warming conditions both above and below during the period 1979–2004 and the extended period 1948–2004.

Corresponding author address: Jinlun Zhang, Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98105. Email: zhang@apl.washington.edu

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