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Free Content A decadal oscillation due to the coupling between an ocean circulation model and a thermodynamic sea-ice model

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A 3-dimensional, planetary-geostrophic, ocean general circulation model is coupled to a thermodynamic sea-ice model. The thermal coupling takes account of the insulating effect of the ice. A simple approach is taken in the case of the freshwater flux by allowing this to pass through the ice, except that some is used for snow accumulation. It is then modified by salinity rejection/dilution due to freezing/melting. The model has idealized box geometry extending 60° in both latitude and longitude, with a horizontal resolution of 2° and 14 vertical levels. Annual mean surface forcings are used. The coupled system is first spun up using restoring conditions on both surface temperature and surface salinity to reach a steady state which includes ice in the high latitudes. A switch of the surface forcing to mixed boundary conditions (restoring on temperature and flux on salinity) leads to an oscillation of period 17 years in the magnitude of the thermohaline circulation and the ice extent. The oscillation is due to a feedback between ice cover and ocean temperature. Since ice forms only in regions where the ocean loses heat to the atmosphere, the thermal insulation of an increased ice cover makes the ocean warmer. The thermohaline circulation plays a role in transporting this heat polewards, which in turn melts the ice. The heat loss over open water at high latitudes then leads to ice formation and the process repeats itself. Salinity rejection/dilution associated with ice formation/melting is shown to be of secondary importance in this oscillation. Rather, changes in surface salinity are dominated by changes in deep convection and the associated vertical mixing, which are themselves associated with the reduction in surface heat loss due to the insulating effect of the ice. As a consequence the model exhibits the negative correlation between surface salinity and ice extent that is observed in the high latitude North Atlantic.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 1995

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  • The Journal of Marine Research, one of the oldest journals in American marine science, publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. Biological studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. The editors strive always to serve authors and readers in the academic oceanographic community by publishing papers vital to the marine research in the long and rich tradition of the Sears Foundation for Marine Research. We welcome you to the Journal of Marine Research.
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