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  1. Abstract

    The Arctic Ocean’s Wandel Sea is the easternmost sector of the Last Ice Area, where thick, old sea ice is expected to endure longer than elsewhere. Nevertheless, in August 2020 the area experienced record-low sea ice concentration. Here we use satellite data and sea ice model experiments to determine what caused this record sea ice minimum. In our simulations there was a multi-year sea-ice thinning trend due to climate change. Natural climate variability expressed as wind-forced ice advection and subsequent melt added to this trend. In spring 2020, the Wandel Sea had a mixture of both thin and—unusual for recent years—thick ice, but this thick ice was not sufficiently widespread to prevent the summer sea ice concentration minimum. With continued thinning, more frequent low summer sea ice events are expected. We suggest that the Last Ice Area, an important refuge for ice-dependent species, is less resilient to warming than previously thought.

  2. Abstract

    The oceanographic response and atmospheric forcing associated with downwelling along the Alaskan Beaufort Sea shelf/slope is described using mooring data collected from August 2002 to September 2004, along with meteorological time series, satellite data, and reanalysis fields. In total, 55 downwelling events are identified with peak occurrence in July and August. Downwelling is initiated by cyclonic low‐pressure systems displacing the Beaufort High and driving westerly winds over the region. The shelfbreak jet responds by accelerating to the east, followed by a depression of isopycnals along the outer shelf and slope. The storms last 3.25 ± 1.80 days, at which point conditions relax toward their mean state. To determine the effect of sea ice on the oceanographic response, the storms are classified into four ice seasons: open water, partial ice, full ice, and fast ice (immobile). For a given wind strength, the largest response occurs during partial ice cover, while the most subdued response occurs in the fast ice season. Over the two‐year study period, the winds were strongest during the open water season; thus, the shelfbreak jet intensified the most during this period and the cross‐stream Ekman flow was largest. During downwelling, the cold water fluxed off the shelf ventilates the uppermore »halocline of the Canada Basin. The storms approach the Beaufort Sea along three distinct pathways: a northerly route from the high Arctic, a westerly route from northern Siberia, and a southerly route from south of Bering Strait. Differences in the vertical structure of the storms are presented as well.

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  3. Abstract

    The Arctic Ocean's oldest and thickest sea ice lies along the ~2,000 km arc from the western Canadian Arctic Archipelago to the northern coast of Greenland. Climate models suggest that this region will be the last to lose its perennial ice cover, thus providing an important refuge for ice‐dependent species. However, remarkably little is known about the climate or characteristics of the sea ice in this remote and inhospitable region. Here, we use the Pan‐Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System model to show that the ice cover in the region is very dynamic, with changes occurring at a rate twice that of the Arctic Ocean as a whole. However, there are some differences in the changing nature of the ice cover between the eastern and western regions of the Last Ice Area, which include different timing of the annual minimum in ice thickness as well as distinct ice motion patterns associated with ice thickness extrema.

  4. Abstract

    Data from a late spring survey of the northeast Chukchi Sea are used to investigate various aspects of newly ventilated winter water (NVWW). More than 96% of the water sampled on the shelf was NVWW, the saltiest (densest) of which tended to be in the main flow pathways on the shelf. Nearly all of the hydrographic profiles on the shelf displayed a two‐layer structure, with a surface mixed layer and bottom boundary layer separated by a weak density interface (on the order of 0.02 kg/m3). Using a polynya model to drive a one‐dimensional mixing model, it was demonstrated that, on average, the profiles would become completely homogenized within 14–25 hr when subjected to the March and April heat fluxes. A subset of the profiles would become homogenized when subjected to the May heat fluxes. Since the study domain contained numerous leads within the pack ice—many of them refreezing—and since some of the measured profiles were vertically uniform in density, this suggests that NVWW is formed throughout the Chukchi shelf via convection within small openings in the ice. This is consistent with the result that the salinity signals of the NVWW along the central shelf pathway cannot be explained solely by advectionmore »from Bering Strait or via modification within large polynyas. The local convection would be expected to stir nutrients into the water column from the sediments, which explains the high nitrate concentrations observed throughout the shelf. This provides a favorable initial condition for phytoplankton growth on the Chukchi shelf.

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  5. Abstract

    From late‐summer 2013 to late‐summer 2014, a total of 20 moorings were maintained on the eastern Chukchi Sea shelf as part of five independent field programs. This provided the opportunity to analyze an extensive set of timeseries to obtain a broad view of the mean and seasonally varying hydrography and circulation over the course of the year. Year‐long mean bottom temperatures reflected the presence of the strong coastal circulation pathway, while mean bottom salinities were influenced by polynya/lead activity along the coast. The timing of the warm water appearance in spring/summer is linked to advection along the various flow pathways. The timing of the cold water appearance in fall/winter was not reflective of advection nor related to the time of freeze‐up. Near the latitude of Barrow Canyon, the cold water was accompanied by freshening. A one‐dimensional mixed‐layer model demonstrates that wind mixing, due to synoptic storms, overturns the water column resulting in the appearance of the cold water. The loitering pack ice in the region, together with warm southerly winds, melted ice and provided an intermittent source of fresh water that was mixed to depth according to the model. Farther north, the ambient stratification prohibits wind‐driven overturning, hence themore »cold water arrives from the south. The circulation during the warm and cold months of the year is different in both strength and pattern. Our study highlights the multitude of factors involved in setting the seasonal cycle of hydrography and circulation on the Chukchi shelf.

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