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The Arctic Ocean Spices Up

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  • 1 Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
  • | 2 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
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Abstract

The contemporary Arctic Ocean differs markedly from midlatitude, ice-free, and relatively warm oceans in the context of density-compensating temperature and salinity variations. These variations are invaluable tracers in the midlatitudes, revealing essential fundamental physical processes of the oceans, on scales from millimeters to thousands of kilometers. However, in the cold Arctic Ocean, temperature variations have little effect on density, and a measure of density-compensating variations in temperature and salinity (i.e., spiciness) is not appropriate. In general, temperature is simply a passive tracer, which implies that most of the heat transported in the Arctic Ocean relies entirely on the ocean dynamics determined by the salinity field. It is shown, however, that as the Arctic Ocean warms up, temperature will take on a new role in setting dynamical balances. Under continued warming, there exists the possibility for a regime shift in the mechanisms by which heat is transported in the Arctic Ocean. This may result in a cap on the storage of deep-ocean heat, having profound implications for future predictions of Arctic sea ice.

Corresponding author address: Mary-Louise Timmermans, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, 210 Whitney Ave., New Haven, CT 06511. E-mail: mary-louise.timmermans@yale.edu

Abstract

The contemporary Arctic Ocean differs markedly from midlatitude, ice-free, and relatively warm oceans in the context of density-compensating temperature and salinity variations. These variations are invaluable tracers in the midlatitudes, revealing essential fundamental physical processes of the oceans, on scales from millimeters to thousands of kilometers. However, in the cold Arctic Ocean, temperature variations have little effect on density, and a measure of density-compensating variations in temperature and salinity (i.e., spiciness) is not appropriate. In general, temperature is simply a passive tracer, which implies that most of the heat transported in the Arctic Ocean relies entirely on the ocean dynamics determined by the salinity field. It is shown, however, that as the Arctic Ocean warms up, temperature will take on a new role in setting dynamical balances. Under continued warming, there exists the possibility for a regime shift in the mechanisms by which heat is transported in the Arctic Ocean. This may result in a cap on the storage of deep-ocean heat, having profound implications for future predictions of Arctic sea ice.

Corresponding author address: Mary-Louise Timmermans, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, 210 Whitney Ave., New Haven, CT 06511. E-mail: mary-louise.timmermans@yale.edu
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