Sea ice dynamics and the role of wind forcing over the Beaufort Sea

Friday, 19 December 2014
Jennifer K Hutchings1, Alek Petty2,3, Sinead L Farrell2,3, Jacqueline Richter-Menge4 and Mark A Tschudi5, (1)University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, United States, (2)NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction, College Park, MD, United States, (3)University of Maryland, Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, College Park, MD, United States, (4)USA CRREL, Hanover, NH, United States, (5)University of Colorado at Boulder, CCAR, Boulder, CO, United States
Both the ocean circulation and overlying sea ice cover of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas have experienced significant change in recent decades. We use sea ice drift estimates from satellite feature tracking (NSIDC/CERSAT), wind forcing from atmospheric reanalysis products (NCEP-R2/ERA-I/JRA-55), and ice type information from satellite and direct ship-based observations (obtained during the Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project), to investigate the role of wind forcing and ice mechanics in driving these changes.

An assessment of ice drift shows reasonable agreement across the different products, revealing interannual variability in the ice flux around the Beaufort Sea. However, clear uncertainties remain in determining the magnitude of these fluxes, especially in regions of low ice concentration. We find an increase in ice export out of the southern Beaufort Sea (into the Chukchi Sea) across all seasons. We find slight differences in the strength of the decadal (1980-2013) trends in the mean seasonal wind curl over the Beaufort Sea, although all reanalysis products indicate a strong and significant increase in anti-cyclonic winds in summer. Analysis of ice drift curl suggests increasing anti-cyclonic drift across all seasons, despite the wind curl showing a similar trend in summer only. The strongest trend in ice drift curl appears to be in autumn, however recent years have seen a strong reduction in this anti-cyclonic drift, likely due to a combination of changes in the wind forcing and sea ice state. The implication of this finding is an enhanced response of the ocean circulation to shifts in atmospheric circulation compared to that experienced prior to 2000.