The St. Lawrence Island polynya (SLIP) opens every winter off the coast of St. Lawrence Island as winds move ice away from the shore. The SLIP is an important site for production of the dense water that flows northward through the Bering Strait to help maintain the Arctic Ocean halocline. Winter 1991/1992 ERS-1 SAR, thermal infrared, and passive microwave imagery are analyzed in combination with regional climate system and analytical simulations to investigate SLIP ice circulation, heat fluxes, and dense water production. Emphasis is on the February 1992 southern SLIP event. Satellite-based measurements show this polynya extended ~165km offshore and ~100km along shore at maximum extent. ERS-1 SAR GPS-derived ice motion indicated maximum ice speeds of ~30km day -1 during polynya expansion. Ice along the polynya boundary drifted parallel to the wind at 3--4% of the wind speed during north/northeasterly winds >7m s-1 Heat fluxes associated with the SLIP varied depending on method of calculation, but indicated increasing trends during polynya development. Associated ice production rates of 4.218.9cm day-1 were computed via different models. Dense water production, derived from ice production rates and polynya size, ranged from 0.011--0.017Sv, suggesting that the SLIP could account for 19--27% of the Bering Sea's contribution and 1--2% of the total Arctic contribution to Arctic Ocean halocline maintenance. Although the regional climate system model generated the SLIP on the same time scales as observed, a larger polynya resulted. The simulated polynya's heat and moisture impact was observed to at least 800mb, reaching 50km downstream. During periods of sustained winds, ice circulation was similar to that observed. Incorporation of a "barotropic" ocean component suggested that ocean circulation may be an important ice circulation forcing mechanism at the SLIP, especially during periods of weak winds, as inclusion greatly improved the simulated ice circulation. The "barotropic" ocean also improved polynya shape and extent. If regional climate changes alter the existence of polynyas like the SLIP, changes in the Arctic Ocean halocline might occur. Additional in situ observations and better fully-coupled atmosphere-ice-ocean models are needed to further ascertain the impact of polynyas on the overall Arctic climate system.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1999
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