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From points to Poles: extrapolating point measurements of sea-ice mass balance

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The amount of ice growth and ablation are key measures of the thermodynamic state of the ice cover. While ice extent and even ice thickness can be determined using remote-sensing techniques, this is not the case for the mass balance. Mass-balance measurements require an ability to attribute the change, establishing whether a change in the thickness of the ice cover occurs at the top or bottom surface and whether it is a result of growth or ablation. We have developed and implemented a tool that can be used to measure thermodynamic changes in sea-ice mass balance at individual locations: the ice mass-balance buoy (IMB). The primary limitation of the IMB is that it provides a point measurement of the ice mass balance, defined by a particular combination of snow and ice conditions. Determining if, and how, such point measurements can be extrapolated is critical to understanding the large-scale mass balance of the sea-ice cover. We explore the potential for extrapolation using mass-balance observations from the Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic (SHEBA) field experiment. During SHEBA, mass-balance measurements were made at over 100 sites covering a 100 km2 area. Results indicate that individual point measurements can provide reasonable estimates for undeformed and unponded multi-year ice, which represented more than two-thirds of the ice cover at SHEBA and is the dominant ice type in the perennial pack. A key is carefully selecting a representative location for the instrument package. The contribution of these point measurements can be amplified by integrating them with other tools designed to measure ice thickness and assimilating these combined data into sea-ice models.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 2006

More about this publication?
  • 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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