Positive trend in the mean speed and deformation rate of Arctic sea ice, 1979–2007

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Abstract

[1] Using buoy data from the International Arctic Buoy Program, we found that the sea ice mean speed has substantially increased over the last 29 years (+17% per decade for winter and +8.5% for summer). A strong seasonal dependence of the mean speed is also revealed, with a maximum in October and a minimum in April. The sea ice mean strain rate also increased significantly over the period (+51% per decade for winter and +52% for summer). We check that these increases in both sea ice mean speed and deformation rate are unlikely to be consequences of a stronger atmospheric forcing. Instead, they suggest that sea ice kinematics play a fundamental role in the albedo feedback loop and sea ice decline: increasing deformation means stronger fracturing, hence more lead opening, and therefore a decreasing albedo. This accelerates sea ice thinning in summer and delays refreezing in early winter, therefore decreasing the mechanical strength of the cover and allowing even more fracturing, larger drifting speed and deformation, and possibly a faster export of sea ice through the Fram Strait. The September minimum sea ice extent of 2007 might be a good illustration of this interplay between sea ice deformation and sea ice shrinking, as we found that for both winter 2007 and summer 2007 exceptionally large deformation rates affected the Arctic sea ice cover.

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