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Effects of increasing the category resolution of the sea ice thickness distribution in a coupled climate model on Arctic and Antarctic sea ice
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  • Madison Margaret Smith,
  • Marika M Holland,
  • Alek Aaron Petty,
  • Bonnie Light,
  • David Anthony Bailey
Madison Margaret Smith
University of Washington

Corresponding Author:mmsmith@apl.washington.edu

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Marika M Holland
National Center for Atmospheric Research (UCAR)
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Alek Aaron Petty
University of Maryland, College Park
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Bonnie Light
University of Washigton
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David Anthony Bailey
National Center for Atmospheric Research (UCAR)
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Many modern sea ice models used in global climate models represent the subgrid-scale heterogeneity in sea ice thickness with an ice thickness distribution (ITD), which improves model realism by representing the significant impact of the high spatial heterogeneity of sea ice thickness on thermodynamic and dynamic processes. Most models default to five thickness categories. However, little has been done to explore the effects of the resolution of this distribution (number of categories) on sea-ice feedbacks in a coupled model framework and resulting representation of the sea ice mean state. Here, we explore this using sensitivity experiments in CESM2 with the standard five ice thickness categories and fifteen ice thickness categories. Increasing the resolution of the ITD in a run with preindustrial climate forcing results in substantially thicker Arctic sea ice year-round. Analyses show that this is a result of the ITD influence on ice strength. With 15 ITD categories, weaker ice occurs for the same average thickness, resulting in a higher fraction of ridged sea ice. In contrast, the higher resolution of thin ice categories results in enhanced heat conduction and bottom growth and leads to only somewhat increased winter Antarctic sea ice. The spatial resolution of the ICESat-2 satellite mission provides a new opportunity to compare model outputs with observations of seasonal evolution of the ITD in the Arctic (ICESat-2; 2018-2021). Comparisons highlight significant differences from the ITD modeled with both runs over this period, likely pointing to underlying issues contributing to the representation of average thickness.