The importance of turbulent ocean–sea ice nutrient exchanges for simulation of ice algal biomass and production with CICE6.1 and Icepack 1.2

[Published 31 January 2022]

Scientific Publications

Download this article here


Different sea ice models apply unique approaches in the computation of nutrient diffusion between the ocean and the ice bottom, which are generally decoupled from the calculation of turbulent heat flux. A simple molecular diffusion formulation is often used. We argue that nutrient transfer from the ocean to sea ice should be as consistent as possible with heat transfer, since all of these fluxes respond to varying forcing in a similar fashion. We hypothesize that biogeochemical models that do not consider such turbulent nutrient exchanges between the ocean and the sea ice, despite considering brine drainage and bulk exchanges through ice freezing and melting, may underestimate bottom-ice algal production. The Los Alamos Sea Ice Model (CICE + Icepack) was used to test this hypothesis by comparing simulations without and with diffusion of nutrients across the sea ice bottom that are dependent on velocity shear, implemented in a way that is consistent with turbulent heat exchanges. Simulation results support the hypothesis, showing a significant enhancement of ice algal production and biomass when nutrient limitation was relieved by bottom-ice turbulent exchange. Our results emphasize the potentially critical role of turbulent exchanges to sea ice algal blooms and thus the importance of properly representing them in biogeochemical models. The relevance of this becomes even more apparent considering ongoing trends in the Arctic Ocean, with a predictable shift from light-limited to nutrient-limited growth of ice algae earlier in the spring, as the sea ice becomes more fractured and thinner with a larger fraction of young ice with thin snow cover.

FACE-IT Scientists: