Articles | Volume 5, issue 4
Research article
24 Oct 2011
Research article |  | 24 Oct 2011

Variability and changes of Arctic sea ice draft distribution – submarine sonar measurements revisited

A. Oikkonen and J. Haapala

Abstract. Changes in the mean sea ice thickness and concentration in the Arctic are well known. However, quantitative information about changes in the ice thickness distribution and the composition of the pack ice is lacking. In this paper we determine the ice draft distributions, mean and modal thicknesses, and their regional and seasonal variability in the Arctic for the time period 1975–2000. We compare characteristics of the Arctic pack ice for the years 1975–1987 and 1988–2000. These periods represent different large-scale atmospheric circulation modes and sea ice circulation patterns, most evident in clearly weaker Beaufort Gyre and stronger as well as westward shifted Transpolar Drift during the later period. The comparison of these two periods reveals that the peak of sea ice draft distributions has narrowed and shifted toward thinner ice, with reductions in both mean and modal ice draft. These noticeable changes are attributed to the loss of thick, mostly deformed ice. Springtime, loss of ice volume with draft greater than 5 m exceeds 35 % in all regions except the Nansen Basin, with as much as 45 % or more at the North Pole and in the Eastern Arctic. Autumn volume reduction, mostly of deformed ice, exceeds 40 % in the Canada Basin only, but is above 30 % also in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. During the later period, the volume of ice category consisting thin, mostly level first-year ice, is clearly larger than during the former period, especially in the spring. In the Beaufort Sea region, changes in the composition of ice cover have resulted in a shift of modal draft from level multiyear ice draft range to values of level first-year ice. The regional and seasonal variability of sea ice draft has decreased, since the thinning has been most pronounced in regions with the thickest pack ice (the Western Arctic), and during the spring (0.6–0.8 m per decade).