Thermodynamic and dynamic contributions to seasonal Arctic sea ice thickness distributions from airborne observations

luisa.von.albedyll [ at ]


Sea ice thickness is a key parameter in the polar climate and ecosystem. Thermodynamic and dynamic processes alter the sea ice thickness. The Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition provided a unique opportunity to study seasonal sea ice thickness changes of the same sea ice. We analyzed 11 large-scale (∼50 km) airborne electromagnetic sea thickness and surface roughness surveys from October 2019 to September 2020. Data from ice mass balance and position buoys provided additional information. We found that thermodynamic growth and decay dominated the seasonal cycle with a total mean sea ice thickness increase of 1.4 m (October 2019 to June 2020) and decay of 1.2 m (June 2020 to September 2020). Ice dynamics and deformation-related processes, such as thin ice formation in leads and subsequent ridging, broadened the ice thickness distribution and contributed 30% to the increase in mean thickness. These processes caused a 1-month delay between maximum thermodynamic sea ice thickness and maximum mean ice thickness. The airborne EM measurements bridged the scales from local floe-scale measurements to Arctic-wide satellite observations and model grid cells. The spatial differences in mean sea ice thickness between the Central Observatory (<10 km) of MOSAiC and the Distributed Network (<50 km) were negligible in fall and only 0.2 m in late winter, but the relative abundance of thin and thick ice varied. One unexpected outcome was the large dynamic thickening in a regime where divergence prevailed on average in the western Nansen Basin in spring. We suggest that the large dynamic thickening was due to the mobile, unconsolidated sea ice pack and periodic, sub-daily motion. We demonstrate that this Lagrangian sea ice thickness data set is well suited for validating the existing redistribution theory in sea ice models. Our comprehensive description of seasonal changes of the sea ice thickness distribution is valuable for interpreting MOSAiC time series across disciplines and can be used as a reference to advance sea ice thickness modeling.

Item Type
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
Publication Status
Eprint ID
DOI 10.1525/elementa.2021.00074

Cite as
von Albedyll, L. , Hendricks, S. , Grodofzig, R. , Krumpen, T. , Arndt, S. , Belter, H. J. , Birnbaum, G. , Cheng, B. , Hoppmann, M. , Hutchings, J. , Itkin, P. , Lei, R. , Nicolaus, M. , Ricker, R. , Rohde, J. , Suhrhoff, M. , Timofeeva, A. , Watkins, D. , Webster, M. and Haas, C. (2022): Thermodynamic and dynamic contributions to seasonal Arctic sea ice thickness distributions from airborne observations , Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, 10 (1) . doi: 10.1525/elementa.2021.00074

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Research Platforms

PS > 122/1 (MOSAiC20192020)
PS > 122/2 (MOSAiC20192020)
PS > 122/3 (MOSAiC20192020)
PS > 122/4 (MOSAiC20192020)

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