The role of thermal and mechanical processes in the formation of the Ross Sea summer polynya

Tasha E. Reddy, Kevin R. Arrigo, David M. Holland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Three decades of satellite observations collected during spring and early summer have shown recurring region of ice-free water forming in the sea-ice cover of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. This Ross Sea summer polynya plays an important role in heat exchange between the ocean and atmosphere, ventilation of deep water, and is characterized by high biological productivity. Despite its appearance each year, the relative importance of different physical processes to its formation and maintenance are not widely agreed upon. Here we use a three-dimensional coupled ice/ocean model to better understand processes controlling the dynamics of the Ross Sea polynya. Results from the model control run agree favorably with satellite microwave imagery of sea ice. Model sensitivity studies suggest that polynya dynamics are insensitive to the amount of snowfall, the presence of the Ross Ice Shelf cavity, tides, and solar radiation penetrating the ice. The model results also corroborate earlier findings that both the advection of sea ice and heat entrainment from warm Modified Circumpolar Deep Water play a role in Ross Sea polynya development. More importantly, the model further demonstrates that advection of sea ice due to wind stress plays the primary role in summer polynya formation. Additionally, we suggest that (1) heat entrainment reduces the rate of sea ice formation rather than melts existing sea ice, and (2) advection of sea ice due to synoptic wind events associated with variations in atmospheric pressure are the processes primarily responsible for the formation and expansion of the Ross Sea summer polynya.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberC07027
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 8 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Oceanography


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