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Collaborative Research: Understanding mechanisms of projected 21st century ocean warming around Greenland


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Ocean & fiord systems
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Devastating storm surges result from a combination of the characteristics of the storm itself; e.g. wind strength, direction of storm approach to the coast, storm duration; and from preconditioning due to rising sea level, such that the storm waves can overtop protective barriers that provided adequate defense when sea level was lower. Water added to the oceans from melting glacier, ice caps, and ice sheets is a significant cause of sea level rise. In particular, the Greenland Ice Sheet is projected to be a major contributor to sea level rise during the present century. Much of the recently observed contribution is a response to warming ocean temperatures around Greenland, which cause marine-terminating glaciers to melt and calve icebergs into the ocean. Models that are used to predict this anticipated sea level rise exhibit a broad spread in ocean temperatures around the Greenland Ice Sheet, for reasons that are not well understood. This project is designed to improve understanding of the physical processes responsible for this spread in projected ocean temperatures amongst models. The lead principal investigator for this project, through his ongoing work with local and state governments, will ensure that the results are relevant to and transferred to planners and policy-makers. His parent company will assist in a similar information transfer to the private sector. The project will also contribute to workforce development through support for the training of a graduate student in state-of-the-art interdisciplinary science and through support of three early-career scientists during their formative years. The detailed mechanistic understanding provided by this work will reveal: the physical processes underlying the spread in CMIP5 projections of near-Greenland Ocean warming; the nature and location of the surface fluxes driving warming; and the linkages between warming at different depths and different locations around the ice sheet. It will also provide a physical basis for linkages between near-Greenland ocean warming and other related Arctic climate system processes (e.g. Northern Hemisphere sea ice and the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation). These linkages are vital to understanding how climate-driven changes in Greenland’s mass balance are coupled to other processes such as the loss of sea ice and more general polar surface warming. A two-part strategy will be used to evaluate causal physical mechanisms underlying the spread in CMIP5 projections of ocean warming in an efficient and detailed manner. Statistical analysis of ocean temperature will cluster AOGCMs by their ocean warming patterns and their co-variability (across space and models) with surface fluxes and other climate processes. Numerical simulations, forced by surface fluxes from a representative subset of CMIP5 models, will then be used to develop detailed oceanic heat budgets. Targeted perturbation experiments will isolate the role of atmospheric and Greenland meltwater flux in the context of widely varying CMIP5 representations of the Arctic freshwater budget.