, Volume 34, Issue 2-3, pp 201-222

Effect of the large-scale atmospheric circulation on the variability of the Arctic Ocean freshwater export

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Abstract

Freshwater (FW) leaves the Arctic Ocean through sea-ice export and the outflow of low-salinity upper ocean water. Whereas the variability of the sea-ice export is known to be mainly caused by changes in the local wind and the thickness of the exported sea ice, the mechanisms that regulate the variability of the liquid FW export are still under investigation. To better understand these mechanisms, we present an analysis of the variability of the liquid FW export from the Arctic Ocean for the period 1950–2007, using a simulation from an energy and mass conserving global ocean–sea ice model, coupled to an Energy Moisture Balance Model of the atmosphere, and forced with daily winds from the NCEP reanalysis. Our results show that the simulated liquid FW exports through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA) and the Fram Strait lag changes in the large-scale atmospheric circulation over the Arctic by 1 and 6 years, respectively. The variability of the liquid FW exports is caused by changes in the cyclonicity of the atmospheric forcing, which cause a FW redistribution in the Arctic through changes in Ekman transport in the Beaufort Gyre. This in turn causes changes in the sea surface height (SSH) and salinity upstream of the CAA and Fram Strait, which affect the velocity and salinity of the outflow. The SSH changes induced by the large-scale atmospheric circulation are found to explain a large part of the variance of the liquid FW export, while the local wind plays a much smaller role. We also show that during periods of increased liquid FW export from the Arctic, the strength of the simulated Atlantic meridional overturning circulation is reduced and the ocean heat transport into the Arctic is increased. These results are particularly relevant in the context of global warming, as climate simulations predict an increase in the liquid FW export from the Arctic during the twenty-first century.