Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Understanding the role of Arctic cyclones - A system approach

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 study will investigate changes in atmosphere-ice-ocean coupling in the presence of cyclones in the Arctic. It will respond to the ARCSS mandate by advancing 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 reanalyses, 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 length 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. 

Research Group


University of Colorado

John Cassano, Elizabeth Cassano, Mark Serreze, Elina Valkonen

University of Illinois

Larry DiGirolamo

Naval Postgraduate School

Wieslaw Maslowski, Andrew Roberts

University of Alaska, Fairbanks

John Walsh

Funding Information

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation.