Atmosphere to ocean momentum transfer by sea ice

In response to global warming, the ice covers of the Arctic and Antarctic are changing, with a significant reduction in the summer extent of Arctic sea ice. The reduction of Arctic sea ice is more rapid and extreme than climate models predict, suggesting that these models do not adequately represent the processes controlling this reduction.
The reduced summer Arctic sea ice cover, and changes to the winter sea ice cover, affect the mechanical and thermodynamic coupling between the air and ocean.

In fact, observations show that the sea ice cover has become more mobile in the last 15 years and that there has been an increase in the mean ocean circulation beneath the sea ice. Since, over the same period, there has not been an observed increase in wind strength, this suggests that changes to the sea ice cover itself are responsible for an enhanced ice motion and transfer of wind stress to the ocean beneath sea ice. Our project hypothesis is: Changes in the Arctic sea ice cover have resulted in a more efficient transfer of momentum between the air and ocean, resulting in spin up of sea ice and the Arctic Ocean. We will test this hypothesis with a combination of new data, theory and numerical modelling. We will investigate how changes in the roughness of the ice cover, e.g. through a more dilute ice cover having more floe edges exposed, change the drag forces exerted by the air on the ice and the ice on the ocean. We will investigate how a reduction in the ice cover may reduce the resistance of the ice cover to the wind, allowing it to move more easily. In particular we address the question: to what extent is acceleration of the Arctic sea ice gyre the result of decreased ice forces versus increased drag? We will use climate models containing new physics calibrated with, and derived from, new observations, to examine the prediction that: Changes in the sea ice cover will continue to lead to enhanced momentum transfer between the air and ocean, resulting in a more mobile and responsive ice cover and enhanced flow and mixing in the Arctic Ocean. Although we focus our analysis on the Arctic Ocean, where sea ice changes have been more dramatic, we will also examine air-ice-ocean momentum exchanges in the Southern Ocean. This proposal brings together leading researchers in sea ice dynamics, remote sensing, ocean and climate modelling, and builds upon existing expertise in satellite observation, theory, and modelling of sea ice in the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling. In addition to the scientific outcomes, the proposed work will result in new sea ice drag physics being incorporated into a sea ice climate model and delivered to climate modelling groups. This will directly help scientists investigating and predicting future changes to the sea ice cover in the Arctic and Southern Oceans and also help scientists trying to understand and predict changes in the global climate system.

Grant reference
Natural Environment Research Council
Total awarded
£318,753 GBP
Start date
1 Dec 2015
2 years 11 months 29 days
End date
30 Nov 2018