Turbulent upper-ocean mixing affected by meltwater layers during Arctic summer
Peer reviewed, Journal article
MetadataShow full item record
- Geophysical Institute 
Every summer, intense sea ice melt around the margins of the Arctic pack ice leads to a stratified surface layer, potentially without a traditional surface mixed layer. The associated strengthening of near-surface stratification has important consequences for the redistribution of near-inertial energy, ice–ocean heat fluxes, and vertical replenishment of nutrients required for biological growth. The authors describe the vertical structure of meltwater layers and quantify their seasonal evolution and their effect on turbulent mixing in the oceanic boundary layer by analyzing more than 450 vertical profiles of velocity microstructure in the seasonal ice zone north of Svalbard. The vertical structure of the density profiles can be summarized by an equivalent mixed layer depth hBD, which scales with the depth of the seasonal stratification. As the season progresses and melt rates increase, hBD shoals following a robust pattern, implying stronger vertical stratification, weaker vertical eddy diffusivity, and reduced vertical extent of the mixing layer, which is bounded by hBD. Through most of the seasonal pycnocline, the vertical eddy diffusivity scales inversely with buoyancy frequency (Kρ ∝ N−1). The presence of mobile sea ice alters the magnitude and vertical structure of turbulent mixing primarily through stronger and shallower stratification, and thus vertical eddy diffusivity is greatly reduced under sea ice. This study uses these results to develop a quantitative model of surface layer turbulent mixing during Arctic summer and discuss the impacts of a changing sea ice cover.