Modelling Sea Ice and Surface Wave Interactions in Polar Regions

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 - 17:15
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In the Polar Oceans, the surface ocean waves break up sea ice cover and create the Marginal Ice Zone (MIZ), an area between the sea-ice free ocean and pack ice characterized by highly fragmented ice. This band of sea ice cover is undergoing dramatic changes due to sea ice retreat, with a widening of up to 39% in the Arctic Ocean reported over the last three decades and projections predicting a continuing increase. The surface waves, sea ice and ocean interact in the MIZ through multiple complex feedbacks and processes which are not accounted for in any of the present-day climate models.

To address this issue, we present a model development which implements surface ocean wave effects in the global Ocean General Circulation Model (OGCM) NEMO, coupled to the CICE sea ice model. Our implementation takes into account a number of physical processes specific to the MIZ dynamics. Incoming surface waves are attenuated due to scattering and energy dissipation induced by the presence of ice cover, which is in turn fragmented in response to flexural stresses. This fragmentation modifies the floe size distribution and impacts the sea ice thermodynamics by increasing lateral melting and thus affecting momentum and heat transfer between sea ice and the upper ocean. In addition, the dynamics of the sea ice is modified by a combined rheology that takes into account floe collisions and allows for a more realistic representation of the MIZ.

We present results from the NEMO OGCM at 1 and 0.25 degree resolution with a wave-ice interaction module. The module introduces two new diagnostics previously unavailable in OGCM’s: surface wave spectra in sea ice covered areas, and floe size distribution (FSD) due to wave-induced fragmentation. We evaluate the sea ice and wave simulations with available observational estimates, and analyze the impact of these MIZ processes on the ocean and sea ice state. We focus on ocean mixing, stratification, circulation and the role of the MIZ in ocean seasonal variability.

The study is part of the EU FP7 project ‘Ships and Waves Reaching Polar Regions (SWARP)’, aimed at developing techniques for sea ice and waves modelling and forecasting in the MIZ in the Arctic.