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Vladimir Ivanov, Vladimir Alexeev, Nikolay V. Koldunov, Irina Repina, Anne Britt Sandø, Lars Henrik Smedsrud, and Alexander Smirnov

Abstract

Broad, long-living, ice-free areas in midwinter northeast of Svalbard between 2011 and 2014 are investigated. The formation of these persistent and reemerging anomalies is linked, hypothetically, with the increased seasonality of Arctic sea ice cover, enabling an enhanced influence of oceanic heat on sea ice and, in particular, heat transported by Atlantic Water. The “memory” of ice-depleted conditions in summer is transferred to the fall season through excess heat content in the upper mixed layer, which in turn transfers to midwinter via thinner and younger ice. This thinner ice is more fragile and mobile, thus facilitating the formation of polynyas and leads. When openings in ice cover form along the Atlantic Water pathway, weak density stratification at the mixed layer base supports the development of thermohaline convection, which further entrains warm and salty water from deeper layers. Convection-induced upward heat flux from the Atlantic layer retards ice formation, either keeping ice thickness low or blocking ice formation entirely. Certain stages of this chain of events have been examined in a region north of Svalbard and Franz Joseph Land, between 80° and 83°N and 15° and 60°E, where the top hundred meters of Atlantic inflow through the Fram Strait cools and freshens rapidly. Complementary research methods, including statistical analyses of observations and numerical modeling, are used to support the basic concept that the recently observed retreat of sea ice northeast of Svalbard in winter may be explained by a positive feedback between summer ice decay and the growing influence of oceanic heat on a seasonal time scale.

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Igor V. Polyakov, Vladimir A. Alexeev, Igor M. Ashik, Sheldon Bacon, Agnieszka Beszczynska-Möller, Eddy C. Carmack, Igor A. Dmitrenko, Louis Fortier, Jean-Claude Gascard, Edmond Hansen, Jens Hölemann, Vladimir V. Ivanov, Takashi Kikuchi, Sergey Kirillov, Yueng-Djern Lenn, Fiona A. McLaughlin, Jan Piechura, Irina Repina, Leonid A. Timokhov, Waldemar Walczowski, and Rebecca Woodgate

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