CLIMATOLOGY: Wind Over the Arctic

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Science  17 Nov 2000:
Vol. 290, Issue 5495, pp. 1261d
DOI: 10.1126/science.290.5495.1261d

The polar sea ice reflects much of the incoming solar radiation in the summer and insulates the underlying sea in the winter. It also influences the salinity of the ocean waters and thereby affects water density and thus ocean circulation. Satellite and submarine observations have shown that Arctic sea ice cover and dynamics are highly variable on a decadal time scale and that, on average, the sea ice cover has decreased by several percent per decade.

Two modeling studies attempt to shed light on the underlying mechanisms. Hilmer and Lemke use a sea ice model forced with past wind and temperature records for the period of 1958 to 1998. The simulation shows a pronounced decadal variability in sea ice cover and obtains an overall reduction in sea ice of about 4% per decade. In agreement with observations, the largest thinning is seen to occur in the eastern Arctic.

Maslowski et al. used a regional, coupled ice-ocean model, which they force with realistic atmospheric data for the period from 1979 to 1993. Large-scale changes in sea ice and upper-ocean circulation are observed between the beginning and the end of the study period, also in agreement with observations. The two studies show that atmospheric variability alone can strongly affect the Arctic Ocean system, with wind forcing apparently playing a large role. — JU

Geophys. Res. Lett. 27, 3751; 3743 (2000).

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