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Ice mass-balance buoys: a tool for measuring and attributing changes in the thickness of the Arctic sea-ice cover

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Recent observational and modeling studies indicate that the Arctic sea-ice cover is undergoing significant climate-induced changes, affecting both its extent and thickness. The thickness or, more precisely, the mass balance of the ice cover is a key climate-change indicator since it is an integrator of both the surface heat budget and the ocean heat flux. Accordingly, efforts are underway to develop and deploy in situ observing systems which, when combined with satellite remote-sensing information and numerical models, can effectively monitor and attribute changes in the mass balance of the Arctic sea-ice cover. As part of this effort, we have developed an autonomous ice mass-balance buoy (IMB), which is equipped with sensors to measure snow accumulation and ablation, ice growth and melt, and internal ice temperature, plus a satellite transmitter. The IMB is unique in its ability to determine whether changes in the thickness of the ice cover occur at the top or bottom of the ice cover, and hence provide insight into the driving forces behind the change. Since 2000, IMBs have been deployed each spring from the North Pole Environmental Observatory and in several other areas, including a few in the Beaufort Sea and Central Basin. At this point, the collective time series is too short to draw significant and specific conclusions regarding interannual and regional variability in ice mass balance. Comparisons of available data indicate that ice surface ablation is greater in the Beaufort region (67–80 cm), relative to the North Pole (0–30 cm), consistent with a longer period of melt in the more southerly location. Ablation at the bottom of the ice (22 cm), maximum ice thickness (235 cm) and maximum snow depth (28 cm) were comparable in the two regions.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 2006

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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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