Articles | Volume 11, issue 3
Research article
14 Jun 2017
Research article |  | 14 Jun 2017

Impacts of freshwater changes on Antarctic sea ice in an eddy-permitting sea-ice–ocean model

Verena Haid, Doroteaciro Iovino, and Simona Masina

Abstract. In a warming climate, satellite data indicate that the sea ice extent around Antarctica has increased over the last decades. One of the suggested explanations is the stabilizing effect of increased mass loss of the Antarctic ice sheet. Here, we investigate the sea ice response to changes in both the amount and the spatial distribution of freshwater input to the ocean by comparing a set of numerical sensitivity simulations with additional supply of water at the Antarctic ocean surface. We analyze the short-term response of the sea ice cover and the on-shelf water column to variations in the amount and distribution of the prescribed surface freshwater flux.

Our results confirm that enhancing the freshwater input can increase the sea ice extent. Our experiments show a negative development of the sea ice extent only for extreme freshwater additions. We find that the spatial distribution of freshwater is of great influence on sea ice concentration and thickness as it affects sea ice dynamics and thermodynamics. For strong regional contrasts in the freshwater addition the dynamic response dominates the local change in sea ice, which generally opposes the thermodynamic response. Furthermore, we find that additional coastal runoff generally leads to fresher and warmer dense shelf waters.

Short summary
Since the Antarctic sea ice extent shows a recent increase, we investigate the sea ice response to changed amount and distribution of surface freshwater addition in the Southern Ocean with the ocean–sea ice model NEMO/LIM2. We find that freshwater addition within the range of current estimates increases the ice extent, but higher amounts could have an opposing effect. The freshwater distribution is of great influence on the ice dynamics and the ice thickness is strongly influenced by it.