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The climatic response of the Arctic Ocean to Soviet river diversions


A numerical model is constructed to evaluate the effect of river diversions on the circulation of the Arctic Ocean, including the climatically important response in the extent of sea ice. The ocean model solves the primitive equations of motion in finite-difference form for the irregular geometry of the Arctic Ocean and Greenland/Norwegian Sea, using 110 km horizontal grid spacing and up to 13 unevenly spaced levels in the vertical. Annual mean atmospheric conditions and river discharges are specified from observations. The presence of sea ice is diagnosed on the basis of model ocean temperature; and the effects of sea ice on the surface fluxes of momentum, heat, and salt are included in a simplified way. Lateral exchanges at the southernmost boundary are held near observed values but respond to circulation changes in the Greenland/Norwegian Sea. Three equilibrium solutions are obtained by eighty-year integrations from simple initial conditions: the first with inflow from all rivers, the second with one-third of the inflow diverted from four major rivers (the Ob, Yenesei, Dvina, and Pechora), and the third with total diversion from those rivers. The middle case corresponds to maximal diversions which are either planned or envisioned by the Soviet Union over the next fifty years, whereas the final extreme case is run in the event that model sensitivity is low relative to that of nature.

The control integration gives a good simulation of known water masses and currents. In the Central Arctic, for example, the model correctly predicts a strong shallow halocline, a relatively warm intermediate layer of Atlantic origin, and a temperature jump across the deep Lomonosov Ridge. The overall pattern of surface salinity and the margin of the pack ice are also properly simulated.

When runoff into the marginal Kara and Barents Seas is diverted, either in part or in full, almost no effect on the halocline results in the Central Arctic. In particular, deep convection does not develop in the Eurasian Basin, the possibility of which was suggested by Aagaard and Coachman (1975). The vertical stability within the two marginal seas is considerably decreased by the total diversion of four rivers, but not to the point of convective overturning. The surface currents in this area change to confine the water with increased salinity to the shelf region. At deeper levels, an increased salinity tongue spreads into the deep basins of the ice-free Greenland/Norwegian Sea, where existing deep convection is slightly enhanced. As a result, there is some additional heat loss from the Atlantic layer before it enters the Central Arctic. The ice extent remains nearly the same as before within the Kara and Barents Seas. In fact, since modified bottom currents over the continental shelf bring in less heat from the Greenland Sea, an increased thickness of sea ice may result there, in spite of reduced vertical stability. These model responses are generally in agreement with those suggested by Micklin (1981) and by Soviet investigations of the effect of river diversions. These annualmean results should be regarded as tentative, pending confirmation by studies which include the seasonal cycles of runoff and atmospheric forcing.

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The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

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Semtner, A.J. The climatic response of the Arctic Ocean to Soviet river diversions. Climatic Change 6, 109–130 (1984).

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  • Continental Shelf
  • Arctic Ocean
  • Deep Convection
  • Lomonosov Ridge
  • Horizontal Grid Spacing