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  1. Abstract

    Marginal ice zones are composed of discrete sea‐ice floes, whose dynamics are not well captured by the continuum representation of sea ice in most climate models. This study makes use of an ocean large eddy simulation (LES) model, coupled to cylindrical sea‐ice floes, to investigate thermal and mechanical interactions between melt‐induced submesoscale features and sea‐ice floes, during summer conditions. We explore the sensitivity of sea‐ice melt rates and upper‐ocean turbulence properties to floe size, ice‐ocean drag, and surface winds. Under low wind conditions, upper ocean turbulence transports warm cyclonic filaments from the open ocean toward the center of the floes and enhances their basal melt. This heat transport is partially suppressed by trapping of ice within cold anticyclonic features. When winds are stronger, melt rates are enhanced by the decoupling of floes from the cold, melt‐induced lens underneath sea ice. Distinct dynamical regimes emerge in which the influence of warm filaments on sea‐ice melt is mitigated by the strength of ice‐ocean coupling and eddy size relative to floe size. Simple scaling laws, which may help parameterize these processes in coarse continuum‐based sea‐ice models, successfully capture floe melt rates under these limiting regimes.

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  2. Abstract

    Arctic sea ice extent continues to decline at an unprecedented rate that is commonly underestimated by climate projection models. This disagreement may imply biases in the representation of processes that bring heat to the sea ice in these models. Here we reveal interactions between ocean-ice heat fluxes, sea ice cover, and upper-ocean eddies that constitute a positive feedback missing in climate models. Using an eddy-resolving global ocean model, we demonstrate that ocean-ice heat fluxes are predominantly induced by localized and intermittent ocean eddies, filaments, and internal waves that episodically advect warm subsurface waters into the mixed layer where they are in direct contact with sea ice. The energetics of near-surface eddies interacting with sea ice are modulated by frictional dissipation in ice-ocean boundary layers, being dominant under consolidated winter ice but substantially reduced under low-concentrated weak sea ice in marginal ice zones. Our results indicate that Arctic sea ice loss will reduce upper-ocean dissipation, which will produce more energetic eddies and amplified ocean-ice heat exchange. We thus emphasize the need for sea ice-aware parameterizations of eddy-induced ice-ocean heat fluxes in climate models.

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  3. Abstract Under-ice eddies are prevalent in the major circulation system in the western Arctic Ocean, the Beaufort Gyre. Theoretical studies hypothesize that the eddy-driven overturning and the ice-ocean drag are crucial mechanisms of the gyre equilibration in response to atmospheric winds. However, due to severe weather conditions and limitations of remote sensing instruments, there are only sparse eddy observations in the ice-covered Arctic Ocean. Hence, the evolution of the under-ice eddy field, its impact on the gyre variability, and their mutual response to the ongoing Arctic warming remain uncertain. Here, we infer the characteristics of the under-ice eddy field by establishing its tight connection to the angular velocities of isolated spinning sea ice floes in marginal ice zones. Using over two decades of satellite observations of marginal ice zones in the western Arctic Ocean, we identified and tracked thousands of floes and used idealized eddy modeling to infer the interannual evolution of the eddy energetics underneath the ice. We find that the eddy field is strongly correlated to the strength of the Beaufort Gyre on interannual timescales, which provides the major observational evidence consistent with the hypothesis of the gyre equilibration by eddies. The inferred trends over the past two decades signify that the gyre and its eddy field have been intensifying as the sea ice cover has been declining. Our results imply that with continuing sea ice decline, the eddy field and the Beaufort Gyre will keep intensifying and leading to enhanced transport of freshwater and biogeochemical tracers. 
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  4. Abstract The Beaufort Gyre (BG) is hypothesized to be partially equilibrated by those mesoscale eddies that form via baroclinic instabilities of its currents. However, our understanding of the eddy field’s dependence on the mean BG currents and the role of sea ice remains incomplete. This theoretical study explores the scales and vertical structures of eddies forming specifically due to baroclinic instabilities of interior BG flows. An idealized quasi-geostrophic model is used to show that flows driven only by the Ekman pumping contain no interior potential vorticity (PV) gradients and generate weak and large eddies, ℴ(200km) in size, with predominantly barotropic and first baroclinic mode energy. However, flows containing realistic interior PV gradients in the Pacific halocline layer generate significantly smaller eddies of about 50 km in size, with a distinct second baroclinic mode structure and a subsurface kinetic energy maximum. The dramatic change in eddy characteristics is shown to be caused by the stirring of interior PV gradients by large-scale barotropic eddies. The sea ice-ocean drag is identified as the dominant eddy dissipation mechanism, leading to realistic sub-surface maxima of eddy kinetic energy for drag coefficients higher than about 2×10 −3 . A scaling law is developed for the eddy potential enstrophy, demonstrating that it is directly proportional to the interior PV gradient and the square root of the barotropic eddy kinetic energy. This study proposes a possible formation mechanism of large BG eddies and points to the importance of accurate representation of the interior PV gradients and eddy dissipation by ice-ocean drag in BG simulations and theory. 
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  5. Abstract Commonly used parameterization of mixed layer instabilities in general circulation models was developed for temperate oceans and does not take into account the presence of sea ice in any way. However, the ice–ocean drag provides a strong mechanical coupling between the sea ice and the surface ocean currents and hence may affect mixed layer restratification processes. Here we use idealized simulations of mixed layer instabilities to demonstrate that the sea ice dramatically suppresses the eddy-driven overturning in the mixed layer by dissipating the eddy kinetic energy generated during instabilities. Considering the commonly used viscous-plastic sea ice rheology, we developed an improvement to the existing mixed layer overturning parameterization, making it explicitly dependent on sea ice concentration. Below the critical sea ice concentration of about 0.68, the internal sea ice stresses are very weak and the conventional parameterization holds. At higher concentrations, the sea ice cover starts acting as a nearly immobile surface lid, inducing strong dissipation of submesoscale eddies and reducing the intensity of the restratification streamfunction up to a factor of 4 for a fully ice-covered ocean. Our findings suggest that climate projection models might be exaggerating the restratification processes under sea ice, which could contribute to biases in mixed layer depth, salinity, ice–ocean heat fluxes, and sea ice cover. 
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    Abstract Theories of the Beaufort Gyre (BG) dynamics commonly represent the halocline as a single layer with a thickness depending on the Eulerian-mean and eddy-induced overturning. However, observations suggest that the isopycnal slope increases with depth, and a theory to explain this profile remains outstanding. Here we develop a multilayer model of the BG, including the Eulerian-mean velocity, mesoscale eddy activity, diapycnal mixing, and lateral boundary fluxes, and use it to investigate the dynamics within the Pacific Winter Water (PWW) layer. Using theoretical considerations, observational data, and idealized simulations, we demonstrate that the eddy overturning is critical in explaining the observed vertical structure. In the absence of the eddy overturning, the Ekman pumping and the relatively weak vertical mixing would displace isopycnals in a nearly parallel fashion, contrary to observations. This study finds that the observed increase of the isopycnal slope with depth in the climatological state of the gyre is consistent with a Gent–McWilliams eddy diffusivity coefficient that decreases by at least 10%–40% over the PWW layer. We further show that the depth-dependent eddy diffusivity profile can explain the relative magnitude of the correlated isopycnal depth and layer thickness fluctuations on interannual time scales. Our inference that the eddy overturning generates the isopycnal layer thickness gradients is consistent with the parameterization of eddies via a Gent–McWilliams scheme but not potential vorticity diffusion. This study implies that using a depth-independent eddy diffusivity, as is commonly done in low-resolution ocean models, may contribute to misrepresentation of the interior BG dynamics. 
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