Preconditioning of the Weddell Sea polynya by the ocean mesoscale and dense water overflows

Carolina O. Dufour*, Adele K. Morrison, Stephen M. Griffies, Ivy Frenger, Hannah Zanowski, Michael Winton

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    68 Citations (Scopus)


    The Weddell Sea polynya is a large opening in the open-ocean sea ice cover associated with intense deep convection in the ocean. A necessary condition to form and maintain a polynya is the presence of a strong subsurface heat reservoir. This study investigates the processes that control the stratification and hence the buildup of the subsurface heat reservoir in the Weddell Sea. To do so, a climate model run for 200 years under preindustrial forcing with two eddying resolutions in the ocean (0.25° CM2.5 and 0.10° CM2.6) is investigated. Over the course of the simulation, CM2.6 develops two polynyas in the Weddell Sea, while CM2.5 exhibits quasi-continuous deep convection but no polynyas, exemplifying that deep convection is not a sufficient condition for a polynya to occur. CM2.5 features a weaker subsurface heat reservoir than CM2.6 owing to weak stratification associated with episodes of gravitational instability and enhanced vertical mixing of heat, resulting in an erosion of the reservoir. In contrast, in CM2.6, the water column is more stably stratified, allowing the subsurface heat reservoir to build up. The enhanced stratification in CM2.6 arises from its refined horizontal grid spacing and resolution of topography, which allows, in particular, a better representation of the restratifying effect by transient mesoscale eddies and of the overflows of dense waters along the continental slope.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)7719-7737
    Number of pages19
    JournalJournal of Climate
    Issue number19
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017


    Dive into the research topics of 'Preconditioning of the Weddell Sea polynya by the ocean mesoscale and dense water overflows'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this