Arctic sea ice circulation and drift speed: Decadal trends and ocean currents



[1] We examine the basinwide trends in sea ice circulation and drift speed and highlight the changes between 1982 and 2009 in connection to regional winds, multiyear sea ice coverage, ice export, and the thinning of the ice cover. The polarity of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) is used as a backdrop for summarizing the variance and shifts in decadal drift patterns. The 28-year circulation fields show a net strengthening of the Beaufort Gyre and the Transpolar Drift, especially during the last decade. The imprint of the arctic dipole anomaly on the mean summer circulation is evident (2001–2009) and enhances summer ice area export at the Fram Strait. Between 2001 and 2009, the large spatially averaged trends in drift speeds (winter: +23.6%/decade, summer: +17.7%/decade) are not explained by the much smaller trends in wind speeds (winter: 1.46%/decade, summer: −3.42%/decade). Notably, positive trends in drift speed are found in regions with reduced multiyear sea ice coverage. Over 90% of the Arctic Ocean has positive trends in drift speed and negative trends in multiyear sea ice coverage. The increased responsiveness of ice drift to geostrophic wind is consistent with a thinner and weaker seasonal ice cover and suggests large-scale changes in the air-ice-ocean momentum balance. The retrieved mean ocean current field from decadal-scale average ice motion captures a steady drift from Siberia to the Fram Strait, an inflow north of the Bering Strait, and a westward drift along coastal Alaska. This mean current is comparable to geostrophic currents from satellite-derived dynamic topography.