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Wind-driven trends in Antarctic sea-ice drift


The sea-ice cover around Antarctica has experienced a slight expansion in area over the past decades1,2. This small overall increase is the sum of much larger opposing trends in different sectors that have been proposed to result from changes in atmospheric temperature or wind stress3,4,5, precipitation6,7, ocean temperature8, and atmosphere or ocean feedbacks9,10. However, climate models have failed to reproduce the overall increase in sea ice11. Here we present a data set of satellite-tracked sea-ice motion for the period of 1992–2010 that reveals large and statistically significant trends in Antarctic ice drift, which, in most sectors, can be linked to local winds. We quantify dynamic and thermodynamic processes in the internal ice pack and show that wind-driven changes in ice advection are the dominant driver of ice-concentration trends around much of West Antarctica, whereas wind-driven thermodynamic changes dominate elsewhere. The ice-drift trends also imply large changes in the surface stress that drives the Antarctic ocean gyres, and in the fluxes of heat and salt responsible for the production of Antarctic bottom and intermediate waters.

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Figure 1: April–October 1992–2010 mean ice motion and its relation to wind forcing.
Figure 2: April–October 1992–2010 ice-motion trends and their relation to wind forcing.
Figure 3: Autumn (April–June) 1992–2010 ice motion and concentration trends and their relation to wind forcing.


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Part of this work was performed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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P.R.H. designed and performed the research and wrote the manuscript. R.K. provided the data and contributed to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Paul R. Holland.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Holland, P., Kwok, R. Wind-driven trends in Antarctic sea-ice drift. Nature Geosci 5, 872–875 (2012).

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