Antarctic sea ice and its interactions with high latitude weather and climate
AuthorWatkins, Andrew Bruce
AffiliationSchool of Earth Sciences
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 1998 Dr Andrew Bruce Watkins
Antarctic sea ice plays a major role in the earth system by greatly influencing the high latitude exchanges of heat, moisture and momentum between the ocean and atmosphere, as well as profoundly effecting the salt budget of the ocean, and thus the production of Antarctic Bottom Water, one of the driving mechanisms of worldwide oceanic circulation. With such considerable and far reaching impact, it is important to document its climatology, understand its variability and quantify its influence. Climatologies and trends of the Southern Ocean sea ice pack are presented using the most recent satellite observations available from the Defense Meteorological Program’s (DMSP) Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I). The analysis of these data show that Antarctic sea ice is highly variable in both time and space. Statistically significant increases in the sea ice extent, open water and ice areas have been determined from the SSM/I data for the 9 year period 1987 to 1996, a result which differs from the Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR) observations (1978-1987). The increasing trend in the SSM/I observations can be attributed to the large increases in sea ice observed in 1994-1995, as confirmed by an analysis of data from the ERS-1 satellite. The mean season length during these years has remained relatively unchanged. Regional trends, both in the sea ice concentration and in season length, showed vast spatial inhomogeneity. SSM/I data displayed increasing season length in the central Weddell Sea, Bellingshausen Sea and Balleny Islands regions, with decreasing length in the Amundsen Sea, eastern Ross Sea and in the coastal areas off Wilkes Land. Similar trends are observed in the seasonal sea ice concentration. In most cases, these trends are opposite to those observed in the SMMR data, which may be linked to the shift observed in the Amundsen Sea low after 1990. Comparisons with historical data would suggest that no large scale anomalous change has occurred in the Antarctic sea ice limits over the course of human observation. Furthermore, the degree of variability suggests great care is needed in interpreting large scale changes in sea ice conditions, and hence atmospheric or oceanic change, from locally observed anomalies. Case studies of the effect of individual cyclones upon the sea ice concentration show small but definite modification of the ice conditions. To further diagnose aspects of the thermodynamic and dynamic forcing upon the Antarctic pack, detailed analysis of the sea ice concentration variability has been conducted using spectral techniques, and the spectra have been compared to those of the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) temperature and wind data. In all cases, and with the seasonal cycle removed, the sea ice concentration shows a bias towards longer timescales of variability than either the wind stress or surface air temperature. This “red shift” in its frequency spectrum is strongest with the wind stress, and weakest with the temperature. For longer period waves, this may be due to the formation of new ice by surface cooling or the moderation of melting by the cold surface water, whereas for shorter period waves, where wind stress dominates temperature and ice concentration respectively, time is required for winds to draw in warmer or cooler air, as well as to overcome the ice masses inertia and keel friction to open or close leads. Strong intraseasonal variability of the sea ice concentration is observed in the 20-25 day period, reflecting similar timescales of the temperature variability, as well as that of the energetic eddies of the Antarctic circumpolar current. Examination of the latitudinal variation of the sea ice concentration, temperature and wind stress spectra showed not only the importance of the north-south temperature gradient in influencing the variability, but also the seasonal changes in the semi annual oscillation of the circumpolar trough. Regional spectra showed clear differences between location, and reflected the influences of the atmosphere and ocean upon the sea ice pack. This is clearly shown in the Weddell Polynya region and off East Antarctica, with high variability in the synoptic timescales, and in the western Ross Sea where changes occur in timescales of greater than 20 days. In order to determine if satellite derived, real time sea ice concentration and distribution would be of benefit to operational numerical weather prediction (NWP) schemes, the effect of sea ice concentration change upon the atmosphere in synoptic timescales was examined using a general circulation model in conjunction with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s GASP analyses. Experiments were conducted with a typical July sea ice concentration and distribution, as well as slab concentrations of 0, 10, 25, 50, 80 and 100%. Results from 5-day numerical weather forecasts show that the central pressure, structure and tracks of individual cyclones are sensitive to the ‘switch on’ of different sea ice conditions. Composites of all forecasts made with each concentration showed considerable, and mostly statistically significant, anomalies in the surface temperatures and turbulent heat fluxes over the sea ice. The magnitudes of these changes varied monotonically with the area of open water. The largest changes were simulated closest to the coast for all concentrations except for the typical July sea ice run, which displayed maxima over the outer pack. Significant westerly anomalies were induced over the ice in all cases, as were reductions in mean sea level pressure. The July sea ice runs displayed a distribution of the mean sea level pressure anomaly different from all others, with maxima occurring in the central to outer pack. All other forecasts displayed maxima at the coast. The results suggest that sea ice concentration does induce anomalies in the atmospheric parameters in timescales of less than five days. Further, the use of a realistic distribution of sea ice concentration produces results distinct from the constant concentration forecasts. Hence it is suggested that real time Antarctic sea ice data may be of considerable benefit to numerical weather prediction models.
KeywordsAntarctica; Australia; Southern Ocean; weather; climate; sea ice; climate change; high latitudes; satellites; remote sensing; general circulation models; numerical weather prediction
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