The role and variability of ocean heat content in the Arctic Ocean: 1948–2009
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The observed rate of sea ice cover decline in the Arctic for the past decades is faster than those projected by the recent Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). I hypothesize that a critical source of energy in the Arctic Ocean, heat content accumulating below the surface mixed layer and above the halocline, has been increasing in magnitude and area, and may be contributing to the recent decline in the ice cover. Consistent with observations, model results from a subset of the Regional Arctic System Model (RASM) indicate that heat has been stored between the mixed layer and the halocline, and that it has increased during the period of 1948 to 2009. Ongoing analyses show that the total amount and rate of increase of heat content has been largest in the western Arctic, and there is a causal relationship between the accumulation of heat content and the reduction of sea ice volume. Future studies involving new observations of physical processes and feedbacks in the western Arctic Ocean, and higher resolution and coupled climate models with improved representation of such processes and feedbacks are needed to advance understanding, realistic modeling, and improved prediction of the Arctic System and its variability and change.
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