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Seasonal changes in Arctic sea-ice morphology

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The morphology of the Arctic sea-ice cover undergoes large changes over an annual cycle. These changes have a significant impact on the heat budget of the ice cover, primarily by affecting the distribution of the solar radiation absorbed in the ice–ocean system. In spring, the ice is snow-covered and ridges are the prominent features. The pack consists of large angular floes, with a small amount of open water contained primarily in linear leads. By the end of summer the ice cover has undergone a major transformation. The snow cover is gone, many of the ridges have been reduced to hummocks and the ice surface is mottled with melt ponds. One surface characteristic that changes little during the summer is the appearance of the bare ice, which remains white despite significant melting. The large floes have broken into a mosaic of smaller, rounded floes surrounded by a lace of open water. Interestingly, this break-up occurs during summer when the dynamic forcing and the internal ice stress are small. During the Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic Ocean (SHEBA) field experiment we had an opportunity to observe the break-up process both on a small scale from the ice surface, and on a larger scale via aerial photographs. Floe break-up resulted in large part from thermal deterioration of the ice. The large floes of spring are riddled with cracks and leads that formed and froze during fall, winter and spring. These features melt open during summer, weakening the ice so that modest dynamic forcing can break apart the large floes into many fragments. Associated with this break-up is an increase in the number of floes, a decrease in the size of floes, an increase in floe perimeter and an increase in the area of open water.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2001-01-01

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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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