• Arctic Ocean;
  • GRACE;
  • ocean mass;
  • sea level;
  • nonseasonal variability;
  • ECCO2

[1] Time variable gravity observations from the GRACE satellites reveal strong nonseasonal fluctuations of bottom pressure in the Arctic Ocean on the time scales from 2 to 6 months and a record-high bottom pressure anomaly in February of 2011. Here, we examine the nature and driving forces behind those fluctuations. We find that the nonseasonal variability of the Arctic Ocean mass is strongly coupled to wind forcing. The zonal wind pattern is correlated with a dipole pattern of Arctic Ocean mass changes. Westerly wind intensification over the North Atlantic at about 60°N as well as over the Russian Arctic continental shelf break cause the ocean mass to decrease in the Nordic seas and in the central Arctic, and to increase over the Russian Arctic shelf. Basin-wide Arctic Ocean mass fluctuations are correlated with northward wind anomalies over the northeastern North Atlantic and Nordic seas, and over the Bering Sea. We show that positive (negative) Arctic Ocean mass anomalies are associated with anticyclonic (cyclonic) anomalies of the large-scale ocean circulation pattern. Based on ocean model simulations, we conclude that the observed nonseasonal Arctic Ocean mass variability is mostly explained by the net horizontal wind-driven transports, and the contribution of fresh water fluxes is negligible. We demonstrate that transport anomalies across both the Atlantic and Pacific gateways were equally important for generating large Arctic Ocean mass anomalies in 2011.