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The Winter Heat Budget of Sea Ice in Kotzebue Sound: Residual Ocean Heat and the Seasonal Roles of River Outflow

Witte, Carson Riggs; Zappa, Christopher J.; Mahoney, Andrew R.; Goodwin, John; Harris, Cyrus; Schaeffer, Robert J.; Schaeffer Sr., Roswell; Betcher, Sarah; Hauser, Donna D. W.; Laxague, Nathan J. M.; Lindsay, Jessica M.; Subramaniam, Ajit; Turner, Kate E.; Whiting, Alex V.

The winters of 2017/18 and 2018/19 saw unprecedented sea ice minima in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. Kotzebue Sound, located in the southeastern corner of the Chukchi Sea, remained largely ice-free throughout the winter in a stark departure from both recorded history and Indigenous oral history. The only sea ice that persisted throughout the winter was landfast ice and most of this occupied a small corner of the Sound near the outflow of the Noatak and Kobuk Rivers. We present oceanographic and atmospheric time series from a heavily instrumented “ice-tethered observatory” located on this landfast ice above the river outflow channel. This observing station was deployed as part of the Ikaaġvik Sikukun (Iñupiaq for “Ice Bridges”) project, in which hypotheses and subsequent observational programs were co-produced in partnership with an Indigenous Elder advisory council in Kotzebue. The measurements allow us to quantify the heat budget of the ice above the outflow channel, and identify the ocean as the primary source of heat contributing to thinning of the ice, which began in early February and accelerated rapidly before recovery of the station in April of 2019. In concert with the ice-tethered observations, we use two years of oceanographic measurements from the mouth of Kotzebue Sound to characterize the influence of river outflow on the heat budget of the landfast ice, revealing a seasonal pattern in which the rivers promote ice formation and growth in the fall/winter, but help to drive melting of the ice in spring and early summer.

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