The lack of continuous spatial and temporal sampling of hydrographic measurements in large parts of the Arctic Ocean remains a major obstacle for quantifying mean state and variability of the Arctic Ocean circulation. This shortcoming motivates an assessment of the utility of Argo-type floats, the challenges of deploying such floats due to the presence of sea ice, and the implications of extended times of no surfacing on hydrographic inferences. Within the framework of an Arctic coupled ocean-sea ice state estimate that is constrained to available satellite and in situ observations, we establish metrics for quantifying the usefulness of such floats. The likelihood of float surfacing strongly correlates with the annual sea ice minimum cover. Within the float lifetime of 4–5 years, surfacing frequency ranges from 10–100 days in seasonally, to 1–3 years in multi-year sea ice covered regions. The longer the float drifts under ice without surfacing, the larger the uncertainty in its position, which translates into larger uncertainties in hydrographic measurements. Below the mixed layer, especially in theWestern Arctic, normalized errors remain below 1, suggesting that measurements along a path whose only known positions are the beginning and end points can help constrain numerical models and reduce hydrographic uncertainties. The error assessment presented is a first step in the development of quantitative methods for guiding the design of observing networks. These results can and should be used to inform a float network design with suggested locations of float deployment and associated expected hydrographic uncertainties.

This content is only available as a PDF.


Current affiliation: Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, Institute for Geophysics, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, 78712.