DOI: 10.1029/2023jc020059 ISSN: 2169-9275

The Transition Layer and Remnant Transition Layer of the Western Arctic Ocean: Stratification, Vertical Diffusivity, and Pacific Summer Water Heat Fluxes

Sylvia T. Cole, Peter A. Roemer
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Oceanography


The exchange of heat and other tracers between the ocean interior and sea ice cover depends on vertical diffusion through the thin and strongly stratified Arctic Ocean transition layer and remnant transition layer. Ice‐Tethered Profiler observations during 2004–2021 were used to characterize and investigate the active and remnant transition layers in the Beaufort Gyre region. Transition layers evolved seasonally, with the deepest, densest, and warmest transition layers observed in spring. In a composite view, the summer mixed layer shoaled over a timescale of approximately 2 weeks, leaving behind a remnant transition layer whose stratification had already begun to weaken. The stratification maximum of the remnant transition layer continued to weaken and broaden throughout the summer, including changes associated with storm events. The weakening stratification was used to estimate an effective vertical turbulent diffusivity which ranged from 10−8 to 10−6 m2/s for individual ITP records; a value of 6 × 10−7 m2/s is representative of the Beaufort Gyre region. Vertical heat fluxes through the active and remnant transition layers were estimated over 90‐day timescales. Springtime vertical heat fluxes increased from 0.3 ± 0.3 W/m2 during 2006–2011 to 1.1 ± 0.7 W/m2 during 2017–2021. Summertime vertical heat fluxes through the remnant transition layer were somewhat less, but also increased interannually. Vertical gradients of density during spring and summer, and so diffusion of density through the active and remnant transition layers, did not increase interannually. Pacific Summer Water warming has increased ocean to ice heat fluxes, which may continue to become more significant in the future.

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