11 Sep 2023
 | 11 Sep 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

The role of upper ocean heat content in the regional variability of Arctic sea ice at sub-seasonal time scales

Elena Bianco, Doroteaciro Iovino, Simona Masina, Stefano Materia, and Paolo Ruggieri

Abstract. In recent decades, the Arctic Ocean has undergone changes associated with enhanced poleward inflow of Atlantic and Pacific waters and increased heat flux exchange with the atmosphere in seasonally ice-free regions. The associated changes in upper ocean heat content can alter the exchange of energy at the ocean-ice interface. Yet, the role of ocean heat content in modulating Arctic sea ice variability is poorly documented, particularly at regional scale. We analyze ocean heat transports and surface heat fluxes between 1980–2021 using two eddy-permitting global ocean reanalyses, C-GLORSv5 and ORAS5, to assess the surface energy budget of the Arctic Ocean and its regional seas. We then assess the role of upper ocean heat content, computed in the surface mixed layer (Qml) and in the 0–300 m layer (Q300), as a sub-seasonal precursor of sea ice variability by means of lag correlations. Our results reveal that in the Pacific Arctic regions, sea ice variability in autumn is linked with Qml anomalies leading by 1 to 3 months, and this relationship has strengthened in the Laptev and East Siberian seas during 2001–2021 relative to 1980–2000, primarily due to reduced surface heat loss since the mid-2000s. Q300 anomalies act as a precursor for wintertime sea ice variability in the Barents and Kara seas, with considerable strengthening and expansion of this link from 1980–2000 and 2001–2021 in both reanalyses. Our results highlight the role played by upper ocean heat content in modulating the interannual variability of Arctic sea ice at sub-seasonal timescales. Heat stored in the ocean has important implications for the predictability of sea ice, calling for improvements in forecast initialization and focus upon regional predictions in the Arctic region.

Elena Bianco et al.

Status: open (until 08 Nov 2023)

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Elena Bianco et al.

Elena Bianco et al.


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Short summary
Changes in ocean heat transport and surface heat fluxes in recent decades have altered the Arctic Ocean heat budget and caused warming of the upper ocean. Using two eddy-permitting ocean reanalyses, we show that this has important implications for sea ice variability. In the Arctic regional seas, upper ocean heat content acts as an important precursor for sea ice anomalies on sub-seasonal time scales and this link has strengthened since the 2000s.