Freshwater - the key to melt pond formation atop first year sea ice
Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 8:30 AM
Melt pond formation atop Arctic sea ice is a primary control of shortwave energy balance and light availability for photosynthesis in the upper Arctic Ocean. The initial formation process of melt ponds on first year ice typically requires that melt water be retained on the surface of ice several to tens of centimeters above sea level for several days. Albedo feedbacks during this time period create below-sea-level depressions which remain ponds later in summer. Both theory and observations, however, show that sea ice is so highly porous and permeable prior to the formation of melt ponds that retention of water tens of centimeters above hydraulic equilibrium for multiple days should not be possible. Here we present results of percolation test experiments that identify the mechanism allowing above-sea level melt pond formation. The infiltration of fresh water from snowmelt into the pore structure of the ice is responsible for plugging the pores with fresh ice, sealing the ice against further water percolation, and allowing water to pool above freeboard. Fresh meltwater availability and desalination processes, therefore, exert considerable influence over the formation of melt ponds. The findings demonstrate another mechanism through which changes in snowfall on sea ice, already being observed, are likely to alter ice mass balance and highlight the importance of efforts to improve treatment of ice salinity in models.