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Melinda Webster

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Department Affiliation

Polar Science Center


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Optical properties of melting first-year Arctic sea ice

Light, B., D.K. Perovich, M.A. Webster, C. Polashenski, and R. Dadic, "Optical properties of melting first-year Arctic sea ice," J. Geophys. Res., 120, 7657-7675, doi:10.1002/2015JC011163, 2015.

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1 Nov 2015

The albedo and transmittance of melting, first-year Arctic sea ice were measured during two cruises of the Impacts of Climate on the Eco-Systems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment (ICESCAPE) project during the summers of 2010 and 2011. Spectral measurements were made for both bare and ponded ice types at a total of 19 ice stations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. These data, along with irradiance profiles taken within boreholes, laboratory measurements of the optical properties of core samples, ice physical property observations, and radiative transfer model simulations are employed to describe representative optical properties for melting first-year Arctic sea ice. Ponded ice was found to transmit roughly 4.4 times more total energy into the ocean, relative to nearby bare ice. The ubiquitous surface-scattering layer and drained layer present on bare, melting sea ice are responsible for its relatively high albedo and relatively low transmittance. Light transmittance through ponded ice depends on the physical thickness of the ice and the magnitude of the scattering coefficient in the ice interior. Bare ice reflects nearly three-quarters of the incident sunlight, enhancing its resiliency to absorption by solar insolation. In contrast, ponded ice absorbs or transmits to the ocean more than three-quarters of the incident sunlight. Characterization of the heat balance of a summertime ice cover is largely dictated by its pond coverage, and light transmittance through ponded ice shows strong contrast between first-year and multiyear Arctic ice covers.

Seasonal evolution of melt ponds on Arctic sea ice

Webster, M.A., I.G. Rigor, D.K. Perovich, J.A. Richter-Menge, C.M. Polashenski, and B. Light, "Seasonal evolution of melt ponds on Arctic sea ice," J. Geophys. Res., 120, 5968-5982, doi:10.1002/2015JC011030, 2015.

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4 Sep 2015

The seasonal evolution of melt ponds has been well documented on multiyear and landfast first-year sea ice, but is critically lacking on drifting, first-year sea ice, which is becoming increasingly prevalent in the Arctic. Using 1 m resolution panchromatic satellite imagery paired with airborne and in situ data, we evaluated melt pond evolution for an entire melt season on drifting first-year and multiyear sea ice near the 2011 Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station (APLIS) site in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. A new algorithm was developed to classify the imagery into sea ice, thin ice, melt pond, and open water classes on two contrasting ice types: first-year and multiyear sea ice. Surprisingly, melt ponds formed ~3 weeks earlier on multiyear ice. Both ice types had comparable mean snow depths, but multiyear ice had 0–5 cm deep snow covering ~37% of its surveyed area, which may have facilitated earlier melt due to its low surface albedo compared to thicker snow. Maximum pond fractions were 53 ± 3% and 38 ± 3% on first-year and multiyear ice, respectively. APLIS pond fractions were compared with those from the Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic Ocean (SHEBA) field campaign. APLIS exhibited earlier melt and double the maximum pond fraction, which was in part due to the greater presence of thin snow and first-year ice at APLIS. These results reveal considerable differences in pond formation between ice types, and underscore the importance of snow depth distributions in the timing and progression of melt pond formation.

Interdecadal changes in snow depth on Arctic sea ice

Webster, M.A., I.G. Rigor, S.V. Nghiem, N.T. Kurtz, S.L. Farrell, D.K. Perovich, and M. Sturm, "Interdecadal changes in snow depth on Arctic sea ice," J. Geophys. Res., 119, 5395-5406, doi:10.1002/2014JC009985, 2014.

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13 Aug 2014

Snow plays a key role in the growth and decay of Arctic sea ice. In winter, it insulates sea ice from cold air temperatures, slowing sea ice growth. From spring into summer, the albedo of snow determines how much insolation is absorbed by the sea ice and underlying ocean, impacting ice melt processes. Knowledge of the contemporary snow depth distribution is essential for estimating sea ice thickness and volume, and for understanding and modeling sea ice thermodynamics in the changing Arctic. This study assesses spring snow depth distribution on Arctic sea ice using airborne radar observations from Operation IceBridge for 2009–2013. Data were validated using coordinated in situ measurements taken in March 2012 during the BRomine, Ozone, and Mercury EXperiment (BROMEX) field campaign. We find a correlation of 0.59 and root-mean-square error of 5.8 cm between the airborne and in situ data. Using this relationship and IceBridge snow thickness products, we compared the recent results with data from the 1937, 1954–1991 Soviet drifting ice stations. The comparison shows thinning of the snow pack, from 35.1 ± 9.4 cm to 22.2 ± 1.9 cm in the western Arctic, and from 32.8 ±D 9.4 cm to 14.5 ± 1.9 cm in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. These changes suggest a snow depth decline of 37 ± 29% in the western Arctic and 56 ± 33% in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Thinning is negatively correlated with the delayed onset of sea ice freeze-up during autumn.

Acoustics Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing Center for Environmental & Information Systems Center for Industrial & Medical Ultrasound Electronic & Photonic Systems Ocean Engineering Ocean Physics Polar Science Center