EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Growth of Wave Height with Retreating Ice Cover in the Arctic

Changlong Guan and Jingkai Li
Changlong Guan and Jingkai Li
  • Ocean University of China, College of Oceanic and Atmopheric Sciences, Qingdao, China (

For the Arctic surface waves, one of the most uncontroversial viewpoints is that their escalation in the past few years is mainly caused by the ice extent reduction. Ice retreat enlarges the open water area, i.e., the effective fetch, and thus allows more wind input energy and available distance for wave evolution. This knowledge has been supported by a few previous studies on the Arctic waves which analyzed the correlation between time-series variations in wave height and ice coverage. However, from the perspective of space, the detailed relationship between retreating ice cover and increasing surface waves is not well studied. Hence, we performed such a study for the whole Arctic and its subregions, which will be helpful for a better understanding of the wave climate and for forecasting waves in the Arctic Ocean.

Wave data are produced by twelve-year (2007-2018) hindcasts of summer melt seasons (May-Sept.) and numerical tests with WAVEWATCH III. When a viscoelastic wave-ice model and a spherical multiple-cell grid are applied, simulated wave heights agree with available buoy data and previous research. After the validations, simulated significant wave heights over twelve-year summer melt seasons are used to demonstrate the detailed relationship between the escalation of wave height and reduction of ice extent for the whole Arctic and seven subregions. Through least square regression, we find that the mean wave height in the Arctic Ocean will increase by 0.071m (106km2)-1 when the ice extent is smaller than 9.4×106km2, and roughly 51% is contributed by the enlarged fetch. By analyzing the nondimensional wave energy and comparing the simulated wave height with Wilson IV, we prove the swell is widespread during the summertime in the current Arctic Ocean. Furthermore, we also display the variations in probabilities of occurrence of large waves as ice-edge retreats in seven subregions. Assuming that an ice free period occurs in the Arctic in September, the model results show that the simulated mean wave height is approximately 1.6m and the large waves occur much more frequently, which mean that the growth rate of wave height will be higher if the minimum ice extent keeps reducing in the future.

How to cite: Guan, C. and Li, J.: Growth of Wave Height with Retreating Ice Cover in the Arctic, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-6557,, 2020