EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Nordic Seas Heat Loss, Atlantic Inflow, and Arctic Sea Ice cover over the last century

Lars H. Smedsrud1,2, Morven Muilwijk1, Ailin Brakstad1, Erica Madonna1, and the Nordic Seas Synthesis Team*
Lars H. Smedsrud et al.
  • 1University of Bergen, Geophysical Institute, Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, Bergen, Norway (
  • 2University Centre on Svalbard, Norway
  • *A full list of authors appears at the end of the abstract

Poleward ocean heat transport is a key process in the earth system. Here we detail the changing northward Atlantic Water (AW) flow in the Nordic Seas and the associated Arctic Ocean heat transport and heat loss to the atmosphere since 1900, in relation to the sea ice cover. Our synthesis is largely based on a sea ice-ocean model forced by a reanalysis atmosphere (1900-2018) corroborated by a comprehensive hydrographic database (1950-), measurements of AW inflow (1996-), and other key long-term regional time series. Since the 1970s, ocean temperatures have increased in the Nordic, Barents and Polar Seas, in particular on the shelves. The AW loses heat to the atmosphere as it travels poleward, mostly in  the Nordic Seas, where ~60% of the Arctic Ocean total heat loss resides. Nordic Seas heat loss variability is large, but the long-term positive trend is small. The Barents Sea heat loss is ~30% of the total, but has larger consistently positive trends, related to AW heat transport and sea ice loss. The Arctic seas farther north see only ~10% of the  total heat loss, but show a consistently large increase in heat loss as well as decrease in sea ice since 1900. The AW inflow, the cooling of this water mass as it travels poleward, and the dense outflow have thus all increased since 1900, and they are consistently related through theoretical scaling. Some of the increased AW inflow is wind-driven, and much of the heat loss variability is linked to Cold Air Outbreaks and cyclones in the Nordic and Barents Seas. The oceanic warming is congruent with increased ocean heat transport and a loss of sea ice, and has contributed to the retreat of marine terminating glaciers on Greenland. After 2000, the warming has accelerated, creating a “new normal” that appears to also affect deep water volumes and temperature. The 20th century average Nordic, Barents and Polar Seas CO2 uptake constitutes ~8% of the global ocean, and is almost entirely driven by heat loss to the atmosphere as the AW transforms from inflow to overflow water. The total Arctic Ocean CO2 uptake has increased by ~30% since 1900, which is closely linked to the loss of sea ice in the Barents and Polar Seas.

Nordic Seas Synthesis Team:

Siv K. Lauvset, Clemens Spensberger, Andreas Born, Tor Eldevik, Helge Drange, Emil Jeansson, Camille Li, Are Olsen, Øystein Skagseth, Donald A. Slater, Fiamma Straneo, Kjetil Våge and Marius Årthun.

How to cite: Smedsrud, L. H., Muilwijk, M., Brakstad, A., and Madonna, E. and the Nordic Seas Synthesis Team: Nordic Seas Heat Loss, Atlantic Inflow, and Arctic Sea Ice cover over the last century, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-9223,, 2021.

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