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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 21 Mar 2019

Research article | 21 Mar 2019

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This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).

Impact of floe size distribution on seasonal fragmentation and melt of Arctic sea ice

Adam W. Bateson1, Daniel L. Feltham1, David Schröder1, Lucia Hosekova1, Jeff K. Ridley2, and Yevgeny Aksenov3 Adam W. Bateson et al.
  • 1Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, RG2 7PS, UK
  • 2Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Met Office, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
  • 3National Oceanography Centre Southampton, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK

Abstract. Recent years have seen a rapid reduction in the summer Arctic sea ice extent. To both understand this trend and project the future evolution of the summer Arctic sea ice, a better understanding of the physical processes that drive the seasonal loss of sea ice is required. The marginal ice zone, here defined as regions with between 15 and 80 % sea ice cover, is the region separating pack ice from open ocean. Accurate modelling of this region is important to understand the dominant mechanisms involved in seasonal sea ice loss. Evolution of the marginal ice zone is determined by complex interactions between the atmosphere, sea ice, ocean, and ocean surface waves. Therefore, this region presents a significant modelling challenge. Sea ice floes span a range of sizes but climate sea ice models assume they adopt a constant size. Floe size influences the lateral melt rate of sea ice and momentum transfer between atmosphere, sea ice, and ocean, all important processes within the marginal ice zone. In this study, the floe size distribution is represented as a truncated power law defined by three key parameters: minimum floe size, maximum floe size, and power law exponent. This distribution is implemented within a sea ice model coupled to a prognostic ocean mixed layer model. We present results to show that the use of a power law derived floe size distribution has a spatially and temporally dependent impact on the sea ice, in particular increasing the role of the marginal ice zone in seasonal sea ice loss. This feature is important in correcting existing biases within sea ice models. In addition, we show a much stronger model sensitivity to floe size distribution parameters than other parameters used to calculate lateral melt, justifying the focus on floe size distribution in model development. It is finally concluded that the model approach presented here is a flexible tool for assessing the importance of a floe size distribution in the evolution of sea ice and is suitable for applications where a simple but realistic floe size distribution model is required.

Adam W. Bateson et al.
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Adam W. Bateson et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
The Arctic sea ice cover has been observed to be reducing, particularly in summer. We use numerical models to gain insight into processes controlling its seasonal and decadal evolution. Sea ice is made of pieces of ice called floes. Models previously have set these floes to be the same size, which is not supported by observations. In this study we show that accounting for variable floe size reveals the importance of sea ice regions close to the open ocean in driving seasonal retreat of sea ice.
The Arctic sea ice cover has been observed to be reducing, particularly in summer. We use...