The Cryosphere (2020-10-01)

Frazil ice growth and production during katabatic wind events in the Ross Sea, Antarctica

  • L. Thompson,
  • L. Thompson,
  • M. Smith,
  • J. Thomson,
  • S. Stammerjohn,
  • S. Ackley,
  • B. Loose

DOI
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-14-3329-2020
Journal volume & issue
Vol. 14
pp. 3329 – 3347

Abstract

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Katabatic winds in coastal polynyas expose the ocean to extreme heat loss, causing intense sea ice production and dense water formation around Antarctica throughout autumn and winter. The advancing sea ice pack, combined with high winds and low temperatures, has limited surface ocean observations of polynyas in winter, thereby impeding new insights into the evolution of these ice factories through the dark austral months. Here, we describe oceanic observations during multiple katabatic wind events during May 2017 in the Terra Nova Bay and Ross Sea polynyas. Wind speeds regularly exceeded 20 m s−1, air temperatures were below −25 ∘C, and the oceanic mixed layer extended to 600 m. During these events, conductivity–temperature–depth (CTD) profiles revealed bulges of warm, salty water directly beneath the ocean surface and extending downwards tens of meters. These profiles reflect latent heat and salt release during unconsolidated frazil ice production, driven by atmospheric heat loss, a process that has rarely if ever been observed outside the laboratory. A simple salt budget suggests these anomalies reflect in situ frazil ice concentration that ranges from 13 to 266×10-3 kg m−3. Contemporaneous estimates of vertical mixing reveal rapid convection in these unstable density profiles and mixing lifetimes from 7 to 12 min. The individual estimates of ice production from the salt budget reveal the intensity of short-term ice production, up to 110 cm d−1 during the windiest events, and a seasonal average of 29 cm d−1. We further found that frazil ice production rates covary with wind speed and with location along the upstream–downstream length of the polynya. These measurements reveal that it is possible to indirectly observe and estimate the process of unconsolidated ice production in polynyas by measuring upper-ocean water column profiles. These vigorous ice production rates suggest frazil ice may be an important component in total polynya ice production.