Modeling the seasonal evolution of the Arctic sea ice floe size distribution

Jinlun Zhang, Harry Stern, Phil Hwang, Axel Schweiger, Michael Steele, Margaret Stark, Hans C. Graber

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30 Citations (Scopus)
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To better simulate the seasonal evolution of sea ice in the Arctic, with particular attention to the marginal ice zone, a sea ice model of the distribution of ice thickness, floe size, and enthalpy was implemented into the Pan-arctic IceOcean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS). Theories on floe size distribution (FSD) and ice thickness distribution (ITD) were coupled in order to explicitly simulate multicategory FSD and ITD distributions simultaneously. The expanded PIOMAS was then used to estimate the seasonal evolution of the Arctic FSD in 2014 when FSD observations are available for model calibration and validation. Results indicate that the simulated FSD, commonly described equivalently as cumulative floe number distribution (CFND), generally follows a power law across space and time and agrees with the CFND observations derived from TerraSAR-X satellite images. The simulated power-law exponents also correlate with those derived using MODIS images, with a low mean bias of 2%. In the marginal ice zone, the modeled CFND shows a large number of small floes in winter because of stronger winds acting on thin, weak first-year ice in the ice edge region. In mid-spring and summer, the CFND resembles an upper truncated power law, with the largest floes mostly broken into smaller ones; however, the number of small floes is lower than in winter because floes of small sizes or first-year ice are easily melted away. In the ice pack interior there are fewer floes in late fall and winter than in summer because many of the floes are welded together into larger floes in freezing conditions, leading to a relatively flat CFND with low power-law exponents. The simulated mean floe size averaged over all ice-covered areas shows a clear annual cycle, large in winter and smaller in summer. However, there is no obvious annual cycle of mean floe size averaged over the marginal ice zone. The incorporation of FSD into PIOMAS results in reduced ice thickness, mainly in the marginal ice zone, which improves the simulation of ice extent and yields an earlier ice retreat.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalElementa: Science of the Anthropocene
Issue number126
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sept 2016


  • Arctic sea ice
  • Ice floe
  • istribution (1) Include


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