A changing Arctic Ocean: How measured and modeled 129129I distributions indicate fundamental shifts in circulation between 1994 and 2015

Michael.Karcher [ at ] awi.de


129I measurements on samples collected during GEOTRACES oceanographic missions in the Arctic Ocean in 2015 have provided the first detailed, synoptic 129I sections across the Eurasian, Canada and Makarov Basins. During the 1990s, increased discharges of 129I from European nuclear fuel reprocessing plants produced a large, tracer spike whose passage through the Arctic Ocean has been followed by 129I time series measurements over the past 25 years. Elevated 129I levels measured over the Lomonosov and Alpha-Mendeleyev Ridges in 2015 were associated with tracer labeled, Atlantic-origin water bathymetrically steered by the ridge systems through the central Arctic while lower 129I levels were evident in the more poorly ventilated basin interiors. 129I levels of 200-400 x 107 at/l measured in intermediate waters in 2015 had increased by a factor of 10 compared to results from the same locations in 1994-1996 owing to the circulation of the 1990s, 129I input spike mainly associated with enhanced discharges from the La Hague nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. Comparisons of the patterns of 129I distributions between the mid-1990s and 2015 delineate large scale circulation changes that occurred during the shift from a positive Arctic Oscillation and a cyclonic circulation regime in the mid-1990s to anticyclonic circulation in 2015. The latter is characterized by a broadened Beaufort Gyre in the upper ocean, a weakened boundary current and partial mid-depth, AW flow reversal in the southern Canada Basin. Tracer 129I simulations using the applied circulation model, NAOSIM agree with both historical 129I results and recent GEOTRACES data sets, thereby lending context and credibility to the interpretation of large scale changes in arctic circulation and their relationship to shifts in climate indices revealed by tracer 129I distributions. This paper reports measurements and simulation results for 129I for the 1990s and 2015, and interprets them in the context of ocean circulation responses to changing atmospheric forcing regimes.

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Primary Division
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Peer revision
ISI/Scopus peer-reviewed
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Eprint ID
DOI 10.1029/2020JC016740

Cite as
Smith, J. N. , Karcher, M. , Casacuberta, N. , Williams, W. , Kenna, T. C. and Smethie, W. M. (2021): A changing Arctic Ocean: How measured and modeled 129129I distributions indicate fundamental shifts in circulation between 1994 and 2015 , Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans, 126 (3) . doi: 10.1029/2020JC016740



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