Articles | Volume 16, issue 20
Research article
27 Oct 2016
Research article |  | 27 Oct 2016

The open-ocean sensible heat flux and its significance for Arctic boundary layer mixing during early fall

Manisha Ganeshan and Dong L. Wu

Abstract. The increasing ice-free area during late summer has transformed the Arctic to a climate system with more dynamic boundary layer (BL) clouds and seasonal sea ice growth. The open-ocean sensible heat flux, a crucial mechanism of excessive ocean heat loss to the atmosphere during the fall freeze season, is speculated to play an important role in the recently observed cloud cover increase and BL instability. However, lack of observations and understanding of the resilience of the proposed mechanisms, especially in relation to meteorological and interannual variability, has left a poorly constrained BL parameterization scheme in Arctic climate models. In this study, we use multi-year Japanese cruise-ship observations from R/V Mirai over the open Arctic Ocean to characterize the surface sensible heat flux (SSHF) during early fall and investigate its contribution to BL turbulence. It is found that mixing by SSHF is favored during episodes of high surface wind speed and is also influenced by the prevailing cloud regime. The deepest BLs and maximum ocean–atmosphere temperature difference are observed during cold air advection (associated with the stratocumulus regime), yet, contrary to previous speculation, the efficiency of sensible heat exchange is low. On the other hand, the SSHF contributes significantly to BL mixing during the uplift (low pressure) followed by the highly stable (stratus) regime. Overall, it can explain  ∼  10 % of the open-ocean BL height variability, whereas cloud-driven (moisture and radiative) mechanisms appear to be the other dominant source of convective turbulence. Nevertheless, there is strong interannual variability in the relationship between the SSHF and the BL height which can be intensified by the changing occurrence of Arctic climate patterns, such as positive surface wind speed anomalies and more frequent conditions of uplift. This study highlights the need for comprehensive BL observations like the R/V Mirai for better understanding and predicting the dynamic nature of the Arctic climate.

Short summary
The amplified Arctic warming has seen a rapid decline in sea ice with serious implications for global climate. The loss of heat from the ocean to the atmosphere is considered important for the recovery of the diminishing sea ice. Yet there is little observational evidence regarding the efficiency of this process. In our study, we explore and quantify the ability of the open ocean to lose heat through sensible heat fluxes. It is found to depend on the prevailing cloud and wind regime.
Final-revised paper