The Atmospheric Boundary Layer Above the Marginal Ice Zone: Scaling, Surface Fluxes, and Secondary Circulations

Joseph Fogarty, Elie Bou-Zeid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The Arctic is undergoing rapid changes due to global warming, including the expansion of the marginal ice zone (MIZ), a zone of mixed ice and open water surfaces. To predict the atmospheric interaction with these surfaces, a critical process in climate models, this paper examines a simplified theoretical framework to non-dimensionalize the dynamics of the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) over a mixed ice-water surface (MIZ–ABL). A heterogeneity Richardson number, Ri h , is proposed to account for the difference in temperature between the ice and water surface in relation to the synoptic pressure gradient forcing. With the wind angle relative to the ice-water interface, α , this framework hypothesizes that these two dimensionless numbers, regardless of individual dimensional variables (surface temperature and geostrophic wind speed) are sufficient to predict the MIZ–ABL dynamics. To test this framework, large-eddy simulations were employed over half-ice and half-water surfaces, with varying surface temperatures and geostrophic wind velocities. While the surface heat fluxes over ice, water, and the aggregate surface seem to be captured reasonably well by α and Ri h , the mean wind and turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) profiles were not, suggesting that not only the difference in stability between the two surface, but also the individual stabilities over each surface influence the dynamics. The wind angle had a significant impact on the results, both in terms of heat fluxes at the surface, turbulent and dispersive fluxes in the MIZ–ABL, and the structure of the secondary circulations. When wind blows perpendicular to the water-ice interface, internal boundary layers are favoured except at the highest Ri h simulated. For cases with wind parallel to the interface, large rolls parallel to the shore emerge. The paper raises at least as many questions as it answers, highlighting the need for further studies of the MIZ–ABL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-76
Number of pages24
JournalBoundary-Layer Meteorology
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Dec 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Heterogeneity
  • Polar boundary layer
  • Scaling
  • Sea ice
  • Secondary circulations


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