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Brine percolation and the transport properties of sea ice

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Sea ice is distinguished from many other porous composites, such as sandstones or bone, in that its microstructure and bulk material properties can vary dramatically over a small temperature range. For brine-volume fractions below a critical value of about 5%, which corresponds to a critical temperature of about –5°C for salinity of 5 ppt, columnar sea ice is effectively impermeable to fluid transport. For higher brine volumes, the brine phase becomes connected and the sea ice is permeable, allowing transport of brine, sea water, nutrients, biomass and heat through the ice. Over the past several years it has been found that brine transport is fundamental to such processes as sea-ice production through freezing of flooded ice surfaces, the enhancement of thermal and salt fluxes through sea ice, nutrient replenishment for sea-ice algal communities, and to sea-ice remote sensing. Motivated by these observations, recently we have shown how percolation theory can be used to understand the critical behavior of fluid transport in sea ice. We applied a percolation model developed for compressed powders of large polymer particles with much smaller metal particles, which explains the observed behavior of the fluid permeability in the critical temperature regime, as well as Antarctic data on surface flooding and algal growth rates. Moreover, the connectedness properties of the brine phase play a significant role in the microwave signature of sea ice through its effective complex permittivity and surface flooding. Here we review our recent results on brine percolation and its role in understanding the fluid and electromagnetic transport properties of sea ice. We also briefly report on measurements of percolation we made on first-year sea ice during the winter 1999 Mertz Glacier Polynya Experiment.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2001

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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