Articles | Volume 12, issue 1
Ocean Sci., 12, 169–184, 2016
Ocean Sci., 12, 169–184, 2016

Research article 25 Jan 2016

Research article | 25 Jan 2016

The Barents Sea frontal zones and water masses variability (1980–2011)

L. Oziel, J. Sirven, and J.-C. Gascard L. Oziel et al.
  • Sorbonne Universités (UPMC, Univ Paris 06)-CNRS-IRD-MNHN, LOCEAN Laboratory, IPSL, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 75005, Paris, France

Abstract. The polar front separates the warm and saline Atlantic Water entering the southern Barents Sea from the cold and fresh Arctic Water located in the north. These water masses can mix together (mainly in the center of the Barents Sea), be cooled by the atmosphere and receive salt because of brine release; these processes generate dense water in winter, which then cascades into the Arctic Ocean to form the Arctic Intermediate Water. To study the interannual variability and evolution of the frontal zones and the corresponding variations of the water masses, we have merged data from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute and have built a new database, which covers the 1980–2011 period. The summer data were interpolated on a regular grid. A probability density function is used to show that the polar front splits into two branches east of 32° E where the topographic constraint weakens. Two fronts can then be identified: the Northern Front is associated with strong salinity gradients and the Southern Front with temperature gradients. Both fronts enclose the denser Barents Sea Water. The interannual variability of the water masses is apparent in the observed data and is linked to that of the ice cover. The frontal zones variability is found by using data from a general circulation model. The link with the atmospheric variability, represented here by the Arctic Oscillation, is not clear. However, model results suggest that such a link could be validated if winter data were taken into account. A strong trend appears: the Atlantic Water (Arctic Water) occupies a larger (smaller) volume of the Barents Sea. This trend amplifies during the last decade and the model study suggests that this could be accompanied by a northwards displacement of the Southern Front in the eastern part of the Barents Sea. The results are less clear for the Northern Front. The observations show that the volume of the Barents Sea Water remains nearly unchanged, which suggests a northwards shift of the Northern Front to compensate for the northward shift of the Southern Front. Lastly, we noticed that the seasonal variability of the position of the front is small.

Short summary
The Barents Sea (BS) is a subpolar region and a zone transition where the Atlantic and the Arctic water masses meets and creates the "Polar Front". This study, based on one of the largest hydrological data set, showed for the first time that the "Polar Front" splits into two branches in the eastern part of the BS. This study also showed that, in a context of climate change, the BS experiences an "Atlantification", which goes along with a north-eastward shift of the frontal structure.