The impact of wintertime sea‑ice anomalies on high surface heat flux events in the Iceland and Greenland Seas

James Pope, Thomas Bracegirdle, Ian Renfrew, Andrew Elvidge

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The gyres of the Iceland and Greenland Seas are regions of deep-water formation, driven by large ocean-to-atmosphere heat fluxes that have local maxima adjacent to the sea-ice edge. Recently these regions have experienced a dramatic loss of sea ice, including in winter, which begs the question have surface heat fluxes in the adjacent ocean gyres been affected? To address this a set of regional atmospheric climate model simulations has been run with prescribed sea ice and sea surface temperature fields. Three 20-year model experiments have been examined: Ice max, Ice med and Ice min, where the surface fields are set as the year with maximum, median and minimum sea-ice extents respectively. Under conditions of reduced sea-ice extent there is a 15% (19 W m −2) decrease in total wintertime heat fluxes in the Iceland Sea. In contrast, there is an 8% (9 W m −2) increase in heat fluxes in the Greenland Sea primarily due to higher local SSTs. These differences are manifest as changes in the magnitude of high heat flux events (such as cold air outbreaks). In the Iceland Sea, 76% of these events are lower in magnitude during reduced sea-ice conditions. In the Greenland Sea, 93% of these events are higher in magnitude during reduced sea-ice conditions as a result of higher SSTs coincident with retreating sea ice. So, in these experiments, the reduced wintertime sea-ice conditions force a different response in the two seas. In both gyres, large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns are key drivers of high heat flux events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1937–1952
Number of pages16
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number3-4
Early online date3 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • Climate modelling
  • Greenland Sea
  • Iceland Sea
  • MetUM
  • Sea ice
  • Surface heat flux
  • ZONE

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