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Future Sea-Ice Decline Predicted to Bring the Arctic Nations Closer Together
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  • Patricia DeRepentigny,
  • Bruno Tremblay,
  • Robert Newton,
  • Stephanie Pfirman,
  • Alexandra Jahn
Patricia DeRepentigny
University of Colorado Boulder

Corresponding Author:patricia.derepentigny@colorado.edu

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Bruno Tremblay
McGill University
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Robert Newton
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University
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Stephanie Pfirman
Arizona State University
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Alexandra Jahn
University of Colorado Boulder
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Over the past decades, Arctic sea ice has declined in thickness and extent and is shifting towards a seasonal ice regime, with accelerated ice drift and an increase in the seasonal ice zone. The changing Arctic ice cover will impact the trans-border exchange of sea ice between the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of the Arctic nations, with important implications for ice-rafted contaminant transport. To investigate projected changes to transnational ice exchange, we use the Lagrangian Ice Tracking System (LITS) to follow ice floes from the location of their formation to where they ultimately melt. We apply this tool to output from two ensembles of the Community Earth System Model (CESM): the CESM Large Ensemble, which uses a high emission scenario (RCP8.5) that leads to over 4°C global warming by 2100, and the CESM Low Warming ensemble, with reduced emissions that lead to a stabilized warming of 2°C by 2060. We also use the National Snow and Ice Data Center Polar Pathfinder and Climate Data Record products to evaluate the fidelity of the CESM present-day tracking simulations. Transnational ice exchange is well represented in CESM except for ice traveling from Russia to Norway, with twice as much ice following this pathway compared to observations. Initial results suggest this might be due to a combination of internal variability and speed biases in the observational data. The CESM projects that by mid-century, transnational ice exchange will expand, with a large increase in the fraction of transnational ice originating from Russia and the Central Arctic. As the seasonal ice zone grows, ice floes accelerate and transit times decrease, eventually cutting off ice exchange between longer pathways. By the end of the 21st century, we see a large impact of the emission scenario on ice exchange: consistent ice-free summers under the high emission scenario act to reduce the total fraction of transnational ice exchange compared to mid-century. The low emission scenario on the other hand continues to see an increase in transnational ice exchange by 2100. Under both scenarios, all pathways have decreased to average transit times of less than 2 years, compared to a maximum of 6 years under present-day conditions and 3 years by mid-century, effectively bringing the Arctic nations closer together.