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Antarctic ocean and sea ice response to ozone depletion: a two timescale problem

Ferreira, D., Marshall, J., Bitz, C. M., Solomon, S. and Plumb, A. (2015) Antarctic ocean and sea ice response to ozone depletion: a two timescale problem. Journal of Climate, 28 (3). pp. 1206-1226. ISSN 1520-0442

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00313.1


The response of the Southern Ocean to a repeating seasonal cycle of ozone loss is studied in two coupled climate models and found to comprise both fast and slow processes. The fast response is similar to the inter-annual signature of the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) on Sea Surface Temperature (SST), on to which the ozone-hole forcing projects in the summer. It comprises enhanced northward Ekman drift inducing negative summertime SST anomalies around Antarctica, earlier sea ice freeze-up the following winter, and northward expansion of the sea ice edge year-round. The enhanced northward Ekman drift, however, results in upwelling of warm waters from below the mixed layer in the region of seasonal sea ice. With sustained bursts of westerly winds induced by ozone-hole depletion, this warming from below eventually dominates over the cooling from anomalous Ekman drift. The resulting slow-timescale response (years to decades) leads to warming of SSTs around Antarctica and ultimately a reduction in sea-ice cover year-round. This two-timescale behavior - rapid cooling followed by slow but persistent warming - is found in the two coupled models analysed, one with an idealized geometry, the other a complex global climate model with realistic geometry. Processes that control the timescale of the transition from cooling to warming, and their uncertainties are described. Finally we discuss the implications of our results for rationalizing previous studies of the effect of the ozone-hole on SST and sea-ice extent. %Interannual variability in the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) and sea ice covary such that an increase and southward shift in the surface westerlies (a positive phase of the SAM) coincides with a cooling of Sea Surface Temperature (SST) around 70-50$^\circ$S and an expansion of the sea ice cover, as seen in observations and models alike. Yet, in modeling studies, the Southern Ocean warms and sea ice extent decreases in response to sustained, multi-decadal positive SAM-like wind anomalies driven by 20th century ozone depletion. Why does the Southern Ocean appear to have disparate responses to SAM-like variability on interannual and multidecadal timescales? Here it is demonstrated that the response of the Southern Ocean to ozone depletion has a fast and a slow response. The fast response is similar to the interannual variability signature of the SAM. It is dominated by an enhanced northward Ekman drift, which transports heat northward and causes negative SST anomalies in summertime, earlier sea ice freeze-up the following winter, and northward expansion of the sea ice edge year round. The enhanced northward Ekman drift causes a region of Ekman divergence around 70-50$^\circ$S, which results in upwelling of warmer waters from below the mixed layer. With sustained westerly wind enhancement in that latitudinal band, the warming due to the anomalous upwelling of warm waters eventually dominates over the cooling from the anomalous Ekman drift. Hence, the slow response ultimately results in a positive SST anomaly and a reduction in the sea ice cover year round. We demonstrate this behavior in two models: one with an idealized geometry and another, more detailed, global climate model. However, the models disagree on the timescale of transition from the fast (cooling) to the slow (warming) response. Processes that controls this transition and their uncertainties are discussed.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:38102
Publisher:American Meteorological Society


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