Physical Mechanisms Controlling Interannual and Seasonal Variations in Melt Pond Evolution on First-Year Sea Ice in the Canadian Arctic

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 8:15 AM
Jack Landy, Jens K Ehn, Megan Shields and David G Barber, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
At the transition between spring and summer, melt ponds form and evolve at the surface of Arctic sea ice, significantly modifying energy exchanges between the ice, atmosphere and ocean. Past observations have demonstrated that the fractional coverage of melt ponds on Arctic sea ice can vary widely over the course of a melt season, between years in the same location, and between regions. Here we present two years of melt pond observations from landfast, first-year sea ice in the Canadian Arctic, and analyze which physical mechanisms were responsible for considerable interannual variations in melt pond coverage. In general, the key factors affecting pond coverage were: (1) premelt surface topography, (2) the number of drainage features in the ice and locations of drainage channels, (3) the evolution of ice temperature, and (4) the surface energy balance. Terrestrial LiDAR measurements showed that the premelt topography was rougher in 2011 than in 2012, which led to interannual variations in maximum pond coverage and hydraulic head of 20 pp and 7 cm, respectively. A change in the meltwater balance (production minus drainage) caused the ponds to spread or recede over an area that was almost 90% larger in 2012 than in 2011. The LiDAR measurements also demonstrated that premelt topography was modified due to preferential melting under meltwater drainage channels. Some melt ponds in areas of low-lying premelt topography were unexpectedly drained as the ponds became elevated above deepening channels. Although the sea ice cover was 0.35 m thinner in 2012 than in 2011, ice interior temperatures remained colder later into June, delaying a transition in ice permeability that would allow vertical meltwater drainage from ponds. This permeability transition was observed in 2011 and contributed to a significant drop in pond coverage.

For more information see:

Landy, J., J. Ehn, M. Shields, and D. Barber (2014), Surface and melt pond evolution on landfast first-year sea ice in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 119, doi:10.1002/2013JC009617.