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The Impact of Wintertime Sea Ice Anomalies on High Heat Flux Events in the Iceland and Greenland Seas

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Sedgwick Club Conference 2019

With the discovery of the subsurface North Icelandic Jet, it has become increasingly important to understand the formation of deep water in the Iceland and Greenland Seas. Two gyres (one in the Iceland Sea, the other in the Greenland Sea) were recently identified as potential regions of deep-water formation, driven by large ocean-to-atmosphere heat flux events. Since the high heat flux events in these regions occur in the proximity of the sea ice edge, a key question is the amount by which their magnitude is being influenced by the ongoing (and future projected) retreat of sea ice. To answer this question, a suite of nested climate model simulations, using a range of sea ice extents and related sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the Iceland and Greenland Seas, were run to investigate how the retreat in winter sea ice is influencing high heat flux events. For the Iceland Sea gyre, a reduction in the strength of ocean-to-atmosphere heat flux events was found under conditions of reduced sea ice extent. For the Greenland Sea gyre, a weak sensitivity to sea ice extent anomalies was found due to small variability in the adjacent sea ice edge and the compensating impact of relatively large co-variability in local SSTs. In both gyres, the role of large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns is a key driver of the occurrence of high heat flux events.

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