On the discretization of the ice thickness distribution in the NEMO3.6-LIM3 global ocean–sea ice model
The ice thickness distribution (ITD) is one of the core constituents of modern sea ice models. The ITD accounts for the unresolved spatial variability of sea ice thickness within each model grid cell. While there is a general consensus on the added physical realism brought by the ITD, how to discretize it remains an open question. Here, we use the ocean–sea ice general circulation model, Nucleus for European Modelling of the Ocean (NEMO) version 3.6 and Louvain-la-Neuve sea Ice Model (LIM) version 3 (NEMO3.6-LIM3), forced by atmospheric reanalyses to test how the ITD discretization (number of ice thickness categories, positions of the category boundaries) impacts the simulated mean Arctic and Antarctic sea ice states. We find that winter ice volumes in both hemispheres increase with the number of categories and attribute that increase to a net enhancement of basal ice growth rates. The range of simulated mean winter volumes in the various experiments amounts to ∼30 % and ∼10 % of the reference values (run with five categories) in the Arctic and Antarctic, respectively. This suggests that the way the ITD is discretized has a significant influence on the model mean state, all other things being equal. We also find that the existence of a thick category with lower bounds at ∼4 and ∼2 m for the Arctic and Antarctic, respectively, is a prerequisite for allowing the storage of deformed ice and therefore for fostering thermodynamic growth in thinner categories. Our analysis finally suggests that increasing the resolution of the ITD without changing the lower limit of the upper category results in small but not negligible variations of ice volume and extent. Our study proposes for the first time a bi-polar process-based explanation of the origin of mean sea ice state changes when the ITD discretization is modified. The sensitivity experiments conducted in this study, based on one model, emphasize that the choice of category positions, especially of thickest categories, has a primary influence on the simulated mean sea ice states while the number of categories and resolution have only a secondary influence. It is also found that the current default discretization of the NEMO3.6-LIM3 model is sufficient for large-scale present-day climate applications. In all cases, the role of the ITD discretization on the simulated mean sea ice state has to be appreciated relative to other influences (parameter uncertainty, forcing uncertainty, internal climate variability).