A numerical study of the western Cosmonaut polynya in a coupled ocean–sea ice model

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Abstract

[1] Employing results from a 0.4°, 40-level fully global, coupled ocean–sea ice model, we investigated the role of physical processes emanating from atmosphere, ocean, and ice in the initiation, maintenance, and termination of a sensible heat polynya with a focus on the western Cosmonaut polynya that occurred during May–July 1999. The Cosmonaut polynya first appeared in early May 1999 in the form of an ice-free embayment, transformed into an enclosed polynya on 5–9 July, and disappeared by late July, when the ice from the surrounding regions began to encircle the embayment. Except for the differences in ice concentrations, the time of appearance, size, and shape of the Cosmonaut polynya simulated by the model are in approximate agreement with the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) observations. Between May and July 1999 the Cosmonaut Sea experienced two synoptic storms, both lasting ∼5 days. Followed by the passage of the first storm on 12–19 June, there was a remarkable growth in the size of the embayment by 21 × 103 km2. Associated with this, the sea surface temperature (SST) rose by 0.15°C, the upward heat flux jumped from 5 to 94 W m−2, and a net freshwater flux into the ocean increased by 2 cm d−1. By running the model simulation with a 20% wind speed increase, it is demonstrated that the twofold increase in SST and upward heat flux increased the embayment area by 15 × 103 km2 and decreased the ice concentration by approximately 10% from the control run. A similar, but somewhat weaker wind event that took place on 30 June to 10 July had less influence on the embayment area although the upward heat flux (65 W m−2) was comparable to the first event. By examining the vertical displacement of the −1.6°C isotherm depth prior to, during, and after these two storms, we demonstrate that the impetus provided by these storms was able to raise the −1.6°C isotherm depth by 30 m through wind-driven mixing, making sufficient oceanic heat input from beneath the mixed layer available to prevent freezing and/or delay ice formation while ice in the adjacent regions continued to grow. A sudden shift in the ice drift direction from southwest to northeast (3 July) followed by the second storm, accompanied by large air-sea temperature differences, caused the enclosure of the embayment, subsequent formation of the polynya, and its termination.

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