Warm Atlantic Water Explains Observed Sea Ice Melt Rates North of Svalbard

Warm Atlantic water (AW) that flows northward along the Svalbard west coast is thought to transport enough heat to melt regional Arctic sea ice effectively. Despite this common assumption, quantitative requirements necessary for AW to directly melt sea ice fast enough under realistic winter conditions are still poorly constrained.

In a new study, Pedro Duarte and coworkers used meteorological data, satellite observations of sea ice concentration and drift, and model output to demonstrate that most of the sea ice entering the area over the Yermak Plateau melts within a few weeks.

The study demonstres that the presence of AW combined with the occurrence of storms releases the amount of heat necessary to keep the area ice‐free. When the AW is close to the surface and its temperature is above about 5°C, storms are no longer necessary to enhance heat transfer and produce the required melting.

Since the amount of heat transported by the AW and the storm frequency have been increasing over several decades, the authors expect that the ice‐free area will increase in the future, affecting air‐sea‐ice fluxes, water mass transformation, marine ecology, sea ice cover, and commercial activity including transportation and fishing.


warm Atlantic water melts sea ice outside Svalbard

RV Lance drifts (white lines) between 15 January and 22 June 2015 during the N‐ICE2015 expedition, from the Nansen Basin and across the Yermak Plateau, with underlying topography. Start and end dates of the drifts are given for the four ice floes monitored during the N‐ICE2105 expedition. Vertical arrows with numbers are average heat fluxes (W m−2) measured at the under‐ice boundary layer during the drift of the four ice floes (Peterson et al., 2017). The yellow arrows show the approximate main pathways of the Atlantic water (Yermak and Svalbard pass branches).

Congratulations with your publication Pedro et al!