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The Ronne polynya of 1997/98: observations of air–ice–ocean interaction

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The Ronne polynya formed in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica, during the period November 1997–February 1998 to an extent not seen previously in the 25 years of all-weather satellite observations. The vessel HMS Endurance traversed the polynya region and took sea-ice, physical oceanographic and meteorological measurements during January and early February 1998. These observations, together with satellite imagery and weather records, were analyzed to determine the causes of the anomalous condition observed and to provide comparisons for numerical modeling experiments. The polynya area, analyzed from satellite imagery, showed a linear, nearly constant, increase with time from mid-November 1997 through February 1998. It had a maximum open-water area of 3 × 105 km2 and extended 500 km north of the Ronne Ice Shelf (at 76° S) to 70° S. The ice and snow structure of floes at the northern edge of the polynya showed the ice there had formed in the previous mid- to late winter (October 1997 or earlier) and had been advected there either from the eastern Weddell Sea or from the front of the Ronne Ice Shelf. Analyses of the wind fields showed anomalous spring–summer wind fields in the polynya year, with a strong southerly to southwesterly component compared to the mean easterly winds typical of summer conditions. These southerly wind conditions, in both magnitude and direction, therefore account for the drift of ice northward. The predominant summer easterly winds usually fill the southern Weddell Sea with ice from the east, and the high- albedo surfaces reflect the solar radiation, preventing warming of the surface ocean waters and consequent sea-ice melt. Instead, high incident solar radiation from November 1997 to February 1998 was absorbed by the open water, rather than being reflected, there- by both melting ice and preventing ice formation, and thereby sustaining the polynya. We conclude that open-water–albedo feedback is necessary to allow the observed polynya formation, since similar drift conditions prevail in winter (arising from southerly winds also) and usually result in extensive new ice formation in front of the Ronne Ice Shelf. The strong southerly winds therefore have quite opposing seasonal effects, leading to high ice production in winter as usually found, and extensive open water if they occur in spring and summer, as seen in this atypical event in 1997/98. In this case, the atypical southerly winds may be associated with an El Ninño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-induced atmospheric circulation pattern.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2001

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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