Projected changes in Arctic Ocean freshwater budgets

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Abstract

[1] Arctic Ocean freshwater budgets are examined from 10 models participating in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. This includes an analysis of sea ice transport and storage, ocean transport and storage, and net surface flux exchange. Simulated budgets for the late 20th century are compared to available observations, followed by an analysis of simulated changes from 1950 to 2050. The consistent theme over this period is an acceleration of the Arctic hydrological cycle, which is expressed as an increase in the flux of water passing through the hydrologic elements. Increased freshwater inputs to the ocean from net precipitation, river runoff, and net ice melt result. While generally attended by a larger export of liquid freshwater to lower latitudes, primarily through Fram Strait, liquid freshwater storage in the Arctic Ocean increases. In contrast, the export and storage of freshwater in the form of sea ice decreases. The qualitative agreement between models for which the only common forcing is rising greenhouse gas concentrations implicates this greenhouse gas loading as the cause of the change. Although the models perform quite well in their simulations of net precipitation over the Arctic Ocean and terrestrial drainage, they differ significantly regarding the magnitude of the trends and their representation of contemporary mean ocean and sea ice budget terms. To reduce uncertainty in future projections of the Arctic freshwater cycle, the climate models as a group require considerable improvement in these aspects of their simulations.

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