The Ronne polynya of 1997/98: observations of air-ice-ocean interaction

The Ronne polynya formed in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica, during the period November 1997-February 1998 to an extent not seen previously in the 25 years of all-weather satellite observations. The vessel HMS Endurance traversed the polynya region and took sea-ice, physical oceanographic and meteorological measurements during January and early February 1998. These observations, together with satellite imagery and weather records, were analyzed to determine the causes of the anomalous condition observed and to provide comparisons for numerical modeling experiments. The polynya area, analyzed from satellite imagery, showed a linear, nearly constant, increase with time from mid-November 1997 through February 1998. It had a maximum open-water area of 3 × 105 km2 and extended 500 km north of the Ronne Ice Shelf (at 76° S) to 70° S. The ice and snow structure of floes at the northern edge of the polynya showed the ice there had formed in the previous mid- to late winter (October 1997 or earlier) and had been advected there either from the eastern Weddell Sea or from the front of the Ronne Ice Shelf. Analyses of the wind fields showed anomalous spring-summer wind fields in the polynya year, with a strong southerly to southwesterly component compared to the mean easterly winds typical of summer conditions. These southerly wind conditions, in both magnitude and direction, therefore account for the drift of ice northward. The predominant summer easterly winds usually fill the southern Weddell Sea with ice from the east, and the high- albedo surfaces reflect the solar radiation, preventing warming of the surface ocean waters and consequent sea-ice melt. Instead, high incident solar radiation from November 1997 to February 1998 was absorbed by the open water, rather than being reflected, there- by both melting ice and preventing ice formation, and thereby sustaining the polynya. We conclude that open-water-albedo feedback is necessary to allow the observed polynya formation, since similar drift conditions prevail in winter (arising from southerly winds also) and usually result in extensive new ice formation in front of the Ronne Ice Shelf. The strong southerly winds therefore have quite opposing seasonal effects, leading to high ice production in winter as usually found, and extensive open water if they occur in spring and summer, as seen in this atypical event in 1997/98. In this case, the atypical southerly winds may be associated with an El Ninño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)-induced atmospheric circulation pattern.


Publication status:
Authors: Ackley, S.F., Geiger, C.A., King, J.C. ORCIDORCID record for J.C. King, Hunke, E.C., Comiso, J.

On this site: John King
1 January, 2001
Annals of Glaciology / 33