Impact of sea ice transport on Beaufort Gyre liquid freshwater content

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The Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort Gyre (BG) is a wind-driven reservoir of relatively fresh seawater, situated beneath time-mean anticyclonic atmospheric circulation, and is covered by mobile pack ice for most of the year. Liquid freshwater accumulation in and expulsion from this gyre is of critical interest due to its potential to affect the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation and due to the importance of freshwater in modulating vertical fluxes of heat, nutrients and carbon in the ocean, and exchanges of heat and moisture with the atmosphere. Here, we investigate the hypothesis that wind-driven sea ice transport into/from the BG region influences the freshwater content of the gyre and its variability. To test this hypothesis, we use the results of a coordinated climate response function experiment with four ice-ocean models, in combination with targeted experiments using a regional setup of the MITgcm, in which we rotate the surface wind forcing vectors (thereby changing the ageostrophic component of these winds). Our results show that, via an effect on the net thermodynamic growth rate, anomalies in sea ice transport into the BG affect liquid freshwater adjustment. Specifically, increased ice import increases freshwater retention in the gyre, whereas ice export decreases freshwater in the gyre. Our results demonstrate that uncertainty in the ageostrophic component of surface winds, and in the dynamic sea ice response to these winds, has important implications for ice thermodynamics and freshwater. This sensitivity may explain some of the observed inter-model spread in simulations of Beaufort Gyre freshwater and its adjustment in response to wind forcing.

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DOI 10.1007/s00382-022-06615-4

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Cornish, S. B. , Muilwijk, M. , Scott, J. R. , Marson, J. M. , Myers, P. G. , Zhang, W. , Wang, Q. , Kostov, Y. , Johnson, H. L. and Marshall, J. (2023): Impact of sea ice transport on Beaufort Gyre liquid freshwater content , Climate Dynamics, pp. 1-17 . doi: 10.1007/s00382-022-06615-4

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