Arctic river discharge increased over the last several decades, conveying heat and freshwater into the Arctic Ocean and likely affecting regional sea ice and the ocean heat budget. However, until now, there have been only limited assessments of riverine heat impacts. Here, we adopted a synthesis of a pan-Arctic sea ice-ocean model and a land surface model to quantify impacts of river heat on the Arctic sea ice and ocean heat budget. We show that river heat contributed up to 10% of the regional sea ice reduction over the Arctic shelves from 1980 to 2015. Particularly notable, this effect occurs as earlier sea ice breakup in late spring and early summer. The increasing ice-free area in the shelf seas results in a warmer ocean in summer, enhancing ocean-atmosphere energy exchange and atmospheric warming. Our findings suggest that a positive river heat-sea ice feedback nearly doubles the river heat effect.
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