Revisiting internal waves and mixing in the Arctic Ocean

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Abstract

[1] To determine whether deep background mixing has increased with the diminishment of the Arctic sea ice, we compare recent internal wave energy and mixing observations with historical measurements. Since 2007, the North Pole Environmental Observatory has launched expendable current probes (XCPs) as a part of annual airborne hydrographic surveys in the central Arctic Ocean. Mixing in the upper 500 m is estimated from XCP shear variance and Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) derived Brunt-Väisälä frequency. Internal wave energy levels vary by an order of magnitude between surveys, although all surveys are less energetic and show more vertical modes than typical midlatitude Garrett-Munk (GM) model spectra. Survey-averaged mixing estimates also vary by an order of magnitude among recent surveys. Comparisons between modern and historical data, reanalyzed in identical fashion, reveal no trend evident over the 30 year period in spite of drastic diminution of the sea ice. Turbulent heat fluxes are consistent with recent double-diffusive estimates. Both mixing and internal wave energy in the Beaufort Sea are lower when compared to both the central and eastern Arctic Ocean, and expanding the analysis to mooring data from the Beaufort Sea reveals little change in that area compared to historical results from Arctic Internal Wave Experiment. We hypothesize that internal wave energy remains lowest in the Beaufort Sea in spite of dramatic declines in sea ice there, because increased stratification amplifies the negative effect of boundary layer dissipation on internal wave energy.

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