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Ocean/sea-ice interactions at the floe scale: regimes of sea-ice floe melt

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SIPW05 - SIP Follow on: Mathematics of sea ice in the twenty-first century

At high latitudes, the ocean is often covered by a thin layer of sea ice, which forms in the winter due to the freezing of seawater. Sea ice is typically characterized by a collection of distinct pieces, known as ice floes, which range in size between several meters to tens of kilometers. In the summer, floes melt due to a warm atmosphere above, as well as a warm ocean below. The melting of sea-ice floes often generates small-scale (1 – 10 km) ocean currents at the surface, which in turn affect sea-ice motion and melt. Here, we study these ice-ocean interactions, using an idealized sea-ice model coupled to a regional ocean model that resolves these fine-scale dynamics. We find that small-scale oceanic currents and surface winds accelerate the sea-ice melt rate by allowing warm waters to move into colder regions under the ice floes. Simple relationships, or scalings, involving the floe size, wind speed and ice-ocean friction, are able to explain these varying ice floe melt rates across a range of environmental conditions. These scalings, when included in global climate models, may help to improve future predictions of sea-ice changes by accounting for the impact of small-scale ocean currents.

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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