Competing Effects of Elevated Vertical Mixing and Increased Freshwater Input on the Stratification and Sea Ice Cover in a Changing Arctic Ocean

Peter E. D. Davis Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

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Camille Lique Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

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Helen L. Johnson Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

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John D. Guthrie Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

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Abstract

The Arctic Ocean is undergoing a period of rapid transition. Freshwater input is projected to increase, and the decline in Arctic sea ice is likely to drive periodic increases in vertical mixing during ice-free periods. Here, a 1D model of the Arctic Ocean is used to explore how these competing processes will affect the stratification, the stability of the cold halocline, and the sea ice cover at the surface. Initially, stronger shear leads to elevated vertical mixing that causes the mixed layer to warm. The change in temperature, however, is too small to affect the sea ice cover. Most importantly, in the Eurasian Basin, the elevated shear also deepens the halocline and strengthens the stratification over the Atlantic Water thermocline, reducing the vertical heat flux. After about a decade this effect dominates, and the mixed layer begins to cool. The sea ice cover can only be significantly affected if the elevated mixing is sufficient to erode the stratification barrier associated with the cold halocline. While freshwater generally dominates in the Canadian Basin (further isolating the mixed layer from the Atlantic Water layer), in the Eurasian Basin elevated shear reduces the strength of the stratification barrier, potentially allowing Atlantic Water heat to be directly entrained into the mixed layer during episodic mixing events. Therefore, although most sea ice retreat to date has occurred in the Canadian Basin, the results here suggest that, in future decades, elevated vertical mixing may play a more significant role in sea ice melt in the Eurasian Basin.

Denotes Open Access content.

Current affiliation: British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Current affiliation: Ifremer, Laboratoire de Physique des Océans, UMR6523, CNRS-IFREMER-IRD-UBO, Brest, France.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

Corresponding author address: Peter E. D. Davis, British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, United Kingdom. E-mail: petvis@bas.ac.uk

Abstract

The Arctic Ocean is undergoing a period of rapid transition. Freshwater input is projected to increase, and the decline in Arctic sea ice is likely to drive periodic increases in vertical mixing during ice-free periods. Here, a 1D model of the Arctic Ocean is used to explore how these competing processes will affect the stratification, the stability of the cold halocline, and the sea ice cover at the surface. Initially, stronger shear leads to elevated vertical mixing that causes the mixed layer to warm. The change in temperature, however, is too small to affect the sea ice cover. Most importantly, in the Eurasian Basin, the elevated shear also deepens the halocline and strengthens the stratification over the Atlantic Water thermocline, reducing the vertical heat flux. After about a decade this effect dominates, and the mixed layer begins to cool. The sea ice cover can only be significantly affected if the elevated mixing is sufficient to erode the stratification barrier associated with the cold halocline. While freshwater generally dominates in the Canadian Basin (further isolating the mixed layer from the Atlantic Water layer), in the Eurasian Basin elevated shear reduces the strength of the stratification barrier, potentially allowing Atlantic Water heat to be directly entrained into the mixed layer during episodic mixing events. Therefore, although most sea ice retreat to date has occurred in the Canadian Basin, the results here suggest that, in future decades, elevated vertical mixing may play a more significant role in sea ice melt in the Eurasian Basin.

Denotes Open Access content.

Current affiliation: British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Current affiliation: Ifremer, Laboratoire de Physique des Océans, UMR6523, CNRS-IFREMER-IRD-UBO, Brest, France.

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

Corresponding author address: Peter E. D. Davis, British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET, United Kingdom. E-mail: petvis@bas.ac.uk
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