skip to main content

Title: Sea-ice retreat suggests re-organization of water mass transformation in the Nordic and Barents Seas
Abstract Water mass transformation in the Nordic and Barents Seas, triggered by air-sea heat fluxes, is an integral component of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). These regions are undergoing rapid warming, associated with a retreat in ice cover. Here we present an analysis covering 1950−2020 of the spatiotemporal variability of the air-sea heat fluxes along the region’s boundary currents, where water mass transformation impacts are large. We find there is an increase in the air-sea heat fluxes along these currents that is a function of the currents’ orientation relative to the axis of sea-ice change suggesting enhanced water mass transformation is occurring. Previous work has shown a reduction in heat fluxes in the interior of the Nordic Seas. As a result, a reorganization seems to be underway in where water mass transformation occurs, that needs to be considered when ascertaining how the AMOC will respond to a warming climate.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1948505 1756361
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Nature Communications
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract. The overturning streamfunction as measured at the OSNAP (Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program) mooring array represents the transformation of warm, salty Atlantic Water into cold, fresh North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW). The magnitude of the overturning at the OSNAP array can therefore be linked to the transformation by air–sea buoyancy fluxes and mixing in the region north of the OSNAP array. Here, we estimate these water mass transformations using observational-based, reanalysis-based and model-based datasets. Our results highlight that air–sea fluxes alone cannot account for the time-mean magnitude of the overturning at OSNAP, and therefore a residual mixing-driven transformation is required to explain the difference. A cooling by air–sea heat fluxes and a mixing-driven freshening in the Nordic Seas, Iceland Basin and Irminger Sea precondition the warm, salty Atlantic Water, forming subpolar mode water classes in the subpolar North Atlantic. Mixing in the interior of the Nordic Seas, over the Greenland–Scotland Ridge and along the boundaries of the Irminger Sea and Iceland Basin drive a water mass transformation that leads to the convergence of volume in the water mass classes associated with NADW. Air–sea buoyancy fluxes and mixing therefore play key and complementary roles in setting the magnitude of the overturning within the subpolar North Atlantic and Nordic Seas. This study highlights that, for ocean and climate models to realistically simulate the overturning circulation in the North Atlantic, the small-scale processes that lead to the mixing-driven formation of NADW must be adequately represented within the model's parameterisation scheme. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract The warm-to-cold densification of Atlantic Water (AW) around the perimeter of the Nordic Seas is a critical component of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). However, it remains unclear how ongoing changes in air-sea heat flux impact this transformation. Here we use observational data, and a one-dimensional mixing model following the flow, to investigate the role of air-sea heat flux on the cooling of AW. We focus on the Norwegian Atlantic Slope Current (NwASC) and Front Current (NwAFC), where the primary transformation of AW occurs. We find that air-sea heat flux accounts almost entirely for the net cooling of AW along the NwAFC, while oceanic lateral heat transfer appears to dominate the temperature change along the NwASC. Such differing impacts of air-sea interaction, which explain the contrasting long-term changes in the net cooling along two AW branches since the 1990s, need to be considered when understanding the AMOC variability. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    The mechanisms that control the export of freshwater from the East Greenland Current, in both liquid and solid form, are explored using an idealized numerical model and scaling theory. A regional, coupled ocean–sea ice model is applied to a series of calculations in which key parameters are varied and the scaling theory is used to interpret the model results. The offshore ice flux, occurring in late winter, is driven primarily by internal stresses and is most sensitive to the thickness of sea ice on the shelf coming out of Fram Strait and the strength of alongshore winds over the shelf. The offshore liquid freshwater flux is achieved by eddy fluxes in late summer while there is an onshore liquid freshwater flux in winter due to the ice–ocean stress, resulting in only weak annual mean flux. The scaling theory identifies the key nondimensional parameters that control the behavior and reproduces the general parameter dependence found in the numerical model. Climate models predict that winds will increase and ice export from the Arctic will decrease in the future, both of which will lead to a decrease in the offshore flux of sea ice, while the influence on liquid freshwater may increase or decrease, depending on the relative changes in the onshore Ekman transport and offshore eddy fluxes. Additional processes that have not been considered here, such as more complex topography and synoptic wind events, may also contribute to cross-shelf exchange.

    Significance Statement

    The purpose of this study is to provide a basic understanding of what controls the flux of sea ice and low-salinity water from the East Greenland shelf into the interior of the Greenland and Iceland Seas. This is a potentially important process since it has been shown that sufficient freshening of the surface waters in the interior of the Nordic seas can inhibit deep convection and the associated air–sea heat flux and water mass transformation. A combination of idealized computer models and basic theory indicates that the fluxes of liquid and solid freshwater are controlled by different mechanisms and occur at different times of the year. Accurate representation in climate models will require representation of small-scale processes such as mesoscale eddies and gradients of ice thickness across the shelf.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    This paper describes the new Regional Arctic Ocean/sea ice Reanalysis (RARE) with a domain that spans a subpolar/polar cap poleward of 45°N. Sequential data assimilation constrains temperature and salinity using World Ocean Database profiles as well as in situ and satellite SST, and PIOMAS sea ice thickness estimates. The 41-yr (1980–2020) RARE1.15.2 reanalysis with resolution varying between 2 and 5 km horizontally and 1–10 m vertically in the upper 100 m is examined. To explore the impact of resolution RARE1.15.2 is compared to a coarser-resolution SODA3.15.2, which uses the same modeling and data assimilation system. Improving resolution in the reanalysis system improves agreement with observations. It produces stronger more compact currents, enhances eddy kinetic energy, and strengthens along-isopycnal heat and salt transports, but reduces vertical exchanges and thus strengthens upper ocean haline stratification. RARE1.15.2 and SODA3.15.2 are also compared to the Hadley Center EN4.2.2 statistical objective analysis. In regions of reasonable data coverage such as the Nordic seas the three products produce similar time-mean distributions of temperature and salinity. But in regions of poor coverage and in regions where the coverage changes in time EN4.2.2 suffers more from those inhomogeneities. Finally, the impact on the Arctic of interannual temperature fluctuations in the subpolar gyres on the Arctic Ocean is compared. The influence of the subpolar North Pacific is limited to a region surrounding Bering Strait. The influence of the subpolar North Atlantic, in contrast, spreads throughout the Nordic seas and Barents Sea in all three products within two years.

    Significance Statement

    The Arctic Ocean/sea ice system plays crucial roles in climate variability and change by controlling the northern end of the oceanic overturning circulation, the equator to pole air pressure gradient, and Earth’s energy balance. Yet the historical ocean observation set is sparse and inhomogeneous, while ocean dynamics has challengingly fine horizontal and vertical scales. This paper introduces a new Regional Arctic Ocean/sea ice Reanalysis (RARE) whose goal is to use the combined constraints of mesoscale ocean dynamics, historical observations, surface meteorology, and continental runoff in a data assimilation framework to reconstruct historical variability. RARE is used to produce a 41-yr ocean/sea ice reanalysis 1980–2020 whose results are described here.

    more » « less
  5. Dense water masses formed in the Nordic Seas flow across the Greenland-Scotland Ridge and provide a major contribution to the lower limb of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. Originally considered an important source of dense water, the Iceland Sea regained focus when the North Icelandic Jet - a current transporting dense water from the Iceland Sea into Denmark Strait - was discovered in the early 2000s. Here we use recent hydrographic data to quantify water mass transformation in the Iceland Sea and contrast present conditions with measurements from hydrographic surveys conducted four decades earlier. We demonstrate that substantial changes in the large-scale hydrographic structure and in the properties of the locally formed dense waters have taken place over this period in concert with a retreating ice edge and diminished ocean-to-atmosphere heat fluxes. This development has impacted the properties of the dense water masses available to supply the North Icelandic Jet. 
    more » « less