Freshwater in the Arctic Ocean 2010–2019

Solomon, Amy; Heuzé, Céline; Rabe, Benjamin; Bacon, Sheldon; Bertino, Laurent; Heimbach, Patrick; Inoue, Jun; Iovino, Doroteaciro; Mottram, Ruth; Zhang, Xiangdong; Aksenov, Yevgeny; McAdam, Ronan; Nguyen, An; Raj, Roshin P.; Tang, Han

The Arctic climate system is rapidly transitioning into a new regime with a reduction in the extent of sea ice, enhanced mixing in the ocean and atmosphere, and thus enhanced coupling within the ocean–ice–atmosphere system; these physical changes are leading to ecosystem changes in the Arctic Ocean. In this review paper, we assess one of the critically important aspects of this new regime, the variability of Arctic freshwater, which plays a fundamental role in the Arctic climate system by impacting ocean stratification and sea ice formation or melt. Liquid and solid freshwater exports also affect the global climate system, notably by impacting the global ocean overturning circulation. We assess how freshwater budgets have changed relative to the 2000–2010 period. We include discussions of processes such as poleward atmospheric moisture transport, runoff from the Greenland Ice Sheet and Arctic glaciers, the role of snow on sea ice, and vertical redistribution. Notably, sea ice cover has become more seasonal and more mobile; the mass loss of the Greenland Ice Sheet increased in the 2010s (particularly in the western, northern, and southern regions) and imported warm, salty Atlantic waters have shoaled. During 2000–2010, the Arctic Oscillation and moisture transport into the Arctic are in-phase and have a positive trend. This cyclonic atmospheric circulation pattern forces reduced freshwater content on the Atlantic–Eurasian side of the Arctic Ocean and freshwater gains in the Beaufort Gyre. We show that the trend in Arctic freshwater content in the 2010s has stabilized relative to the 2000s, potentially due to an increased compensation between a freshening of the Beaufort Gyre and a reduction in freshwater in the rest of the Arctic Ocean. However, large inter-model spread across the ocean reanalyses and uncertainty in the observations used in this study prevent a definitive conclusion about the degree of this compensation.

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Solomon, Amy / Heuzé, Céline / Rabe, Benjamin / et al: Freshwater in the Arctic Ocean 2010–2019. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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