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Collaborative Research: Understanding the role of Arctic cyclones - A system approach


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Ocean & fiord systems
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Arctic cyclones are an important contributor to sea ice deformation and oceanic mixing. Changes
in storm activity, and associated atmospheric feedbacks, have been linked to increased seasonality of the high north in the last decade, and with sea ice depletion during summer months. Cyclones are also likely to respond to changes in Arctic ice cover and ocean state indicating that
the atmosphere-ocean-ice system is tightly coupled through processes related to cyclones. Previous Arctic modeling studies typically used regional model simulations without full coupling
of the atmosphere-ocean-ice system, or fully coupled global climate models that do not permit year-on-year comparison with the observational record. This study will avoid such limitations by using
the Regional Arctic System Model (RASM), for which output corresponds directly with month-on-month observational records. This
will allow assessment of the ice-ocean-atmosphere coupling processes on multiple temporal
and spatial scales, and to relate them to limited Arctic Ocean measurements to build a more complete understanding of how increased cyclone activity may be helping to shift the surface climate of the Arctic to a new, warmer state with seasonal sea ice cover, and of how cyclones
will respond to this new Arctic Ocean state. The impact of cyclones on Arctic stakeholder sectors in northern and western Alaska, including coastal communities and marine transport, will be assessed through a partnership with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy and the project's inventory of Arctic cyclones and associated ocean and sea ice conditions will be archived at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Historical time series of annual and seasonal Arctic cyclone activity, maps of tracks and intensities of Arctic cyclones, and case studies of intense or impactful cyclones will be made available on a project web page. The project will engage graduate students and a post-doctoral fellow, 
and results will be used in atmospheric and oceanic science undergraduate and graduate level courses at the project institutions. Outcomes from this work will be address priorities in the US National Strategy for the Arctic Region and will address key uncertainties in understanding extreme events and their role in the Arctic climate system. The recent loss of Arctic sea ice has increased the potential for ocean-atmosphere coupling
in the Arctic, especially in areas of low ice concentration or where the ice edge has receded. An important aspect of increased ocean-atmosphere Arctic coupling is the
 potential increase
of the ocean's response to storms. Where once mitigated by thick ice, wind-induced ice deformation and oceanic mixing are increasing as the ice pack thins. The decreasing Arctic ice cover and associated warming of the Arctic Ocean may also impact cyclone intensity and frequency. This grant will support investigation of changes in atmosphere-ice-ocean coupling in the presence of cyclones in the Arctic. It will advance our understanding of coupled atmosphere-ocean-ice processes with a focus on the role and response of cyclones in altering the state of the Arctic system. A cyclone tracking scheme will be applied to reanalysis, yielding an inventory of Arctic cyclone locations, tracks, and intensities that will provide a framework for analysis of ice and upper-ocean responses to storms. The responses of ice concentration, ocean temperature and salinity, and associated ice mass balance before, during, and after cyclones at a variety of intensities will be documented. The same analysis will be applied
to output from the high-resolution Regional Arctic System Model (RASM) and to output from
a suite of global climate models (GCMs). Using a novel set of metrics computed from the output of RASM, peak temporal and spatial scales of oceanic mixing, sea ice deformation, and turbulent fluxes associated with the passage of storms in the Arctic will be determined, in order to assess coupled cyclone-ocean-sea ice processes. Changes in the cyclone climatology between pairs of coupled RASM simulations, that differ only in sea ice and ocean state, and in current and end of the 21st century CMIP5 simulations will allow for assessment of cyclone response to changing ocean and ice state. This award is made by the Arctic Section of NSF Polar Programs and co-funded by the NSF GEO effort PREEVENTS.