Science Meetings

Are Surface Waters Around Greenland Getting Saltier in a Warming Climate?
Vinogradova, N.T., Ponte, R.M., Piecuch, C.G., and Little, C.M. (25-Feb-16)

During the past two decades, most surface waters around Greenland ice sheet and in the Nordic Seas became significantly saltier. Given the fact that these waters feed the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation, an increase in surface salinity, which can exceed 0.2 psu in places, might have an important impact on the global ocean circulation and on future projections of the climate state. Surface salinification may seem counter-intuitive to the reported long-term increase in freshwater supply to the region from river discharge and ice melting, sparking debates about whether the freshening of the subpolar gyre has ceased, and whether the recent salinification, if continued, will be able to forestall the projected slowdown of the overturning circulation. Here we assess what controls contemporary salinity changes by examining various terms of the salinity budget, including the dilution effect due to air-sea fluxes of freshwater, fluxes of salt due to sea ice formation/melting, and ocean fluxes of salinity associated with advective and diffusive processes. We use an ocean state estimate produced by the ECCO consortium to consider the budgets over the period 1992-2011. ECCO estimates produce salinity fields close to the observations and, crucial for our purposes, permit closed budget diagnostics of salinity and respective fluxes. The budgets are formulated within the entire water column in order to examine three-dimensional structure of freshwater storage and establish a link between the surface and upper-ocean change in near-Greenland waters. Over the past two decades, patterns of change are evident in all budget terms, with ocean fluxes either offsetting or enhancing surface forcing, including the effects of sea ice dynamics. Interpretation is provided within the context of a changing climate, including intensification of the hydrological cycle and weakening of ocean transports and overturning, as well as natural decadal-to-interdacadal variability present in the system.