Atmospheric drivers of a winter-to-spring Lagrangian sea-ice drift in the Eastern Antarctic marginal ice zone

Ashleigh Womack, Marcello Vichi, Alberto Alberello, Alessandro Toffoli

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Sea-ice drift in the Antarctic marginal ice zone (MIZ) is discussed using data from a 4-month-long drift of a buoy deployed on a pancake ice floe during the winter sea-ice expansion. We demonstrate increased meandering and drift speeds, and changes in the dynamical regimes of the absolute dispersion during cyclone activity, together with high correlations between drift velocities and wind from atmospheric reanalyses. This indicates a dominant physical control of wind forcing on ice drift and the persistence of free-drift conditions. These conditions occurred despite the buoy remaining largely in >80% ice concentrations and at distances >200 km from the estimated ice edge. The drift is additionally characterised by a strong inertial signature at 13.47 h, which appears initiated by passing cyclones. A wavelet analysis of the buoy's velocity confirms that the momentum transfer from winds at the multi-day frequencies is due to atmospheric forcing, while the initiation of inertial oscillations of sea ice has been identified as the secondary effect. Propagating storm-generated waves may initiate inertial oscillations by increasing the mobility of floes and enhance the drag of the inertial current. This analysis indicates that the Antarctic MIZ in the Indian Ocean sector remains much wider and mobile, during austral winter-to-spring, than defined by sea-ice concentration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)999-1013
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Issue number271
Early online date15 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • Antarctic glaciology
  • atmosphere/ice/ocean interactions
  • sea ice
  • sea-ice dynamics

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