Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling
20 February 2015

Towards Quantifying the Increasing Role of Oceanic Heat in Sea Ice Loss in the New Arctic


The loss of Arctic sea ice has emerged as a leading signal of global warming. This, together with acknowledged impacts on other components of the Earth system, has led to the term ‘The New Arctic’. Global coupled climate models predict that ice loss will continue through the twenty‐first century, with implications for governance, economics, security and global weather. A wide range in model projections reflects the complex, highly coupled interactions between the polar atmosphere, ocean and cryosphere, including teleconnections to lower latitudes. This paper summarizes our present understanding of how heat reaches the ice base from the original sources – inflows of Atlantic and Pacific Water, river discharge, and summer sensible heat and shortwave radiative fluxes at the ocean/ice surface – and speculates on how such processes may change in the New Arctic. The complexity of the coupled Arctic system, and the logistic and technological challenges of working in the Arctic Ocean, requires a coordinated interdisciplinary and international program that will not only improve understanding of this critical component of global climate but will also provide opportunities to develop human resources with the skills required to tackle related problems in complex climate systems. We propose a research strategy with components that include: 1) improved mapping of the upper and mid‐depth Arctic Ocean, 2) enhanced quantification of important process, 3) expanded long‐term monitoring at key heat‐flux locations, and 4) development of numerical capabilities that focus on parameterization of heat flux mechanisms and their interactions.