Nav: Home

100-year-old physics model replicates modern Arctic ice melt

June 17, 2019

The Arctic is melting faster than we thought it would. In fact, Arctic ice extent is at a record low. When that happens--when a natural system behaves differently than scientists expect--it's time to take another look at how we understand the system. University of Utah mathematician Ken Golden and atmospheric scientist Court Strong study the patterns formed by ponds of melting water atop the ice. The ponds are dark, while the ice is bright, meaning that the bigger the ponds, the darker the surface and the more solar energy it absorbs.

So, it's more than a little important to know how the ice's reflectivity, also called albedo, is changing. That's a key component in understanding the balance between solar energy coming in and energy reflected out of the Arctic. Earlier work showed that the presence or absence of melt ponds in global climate models can have a dramatic effect on long term predictions of Arctic sea ice volume.

To model the melt ponds' growth, Golden, Strong and their colleagues tweaked a nearly 100-year-old physics model, called the Ising model, that explains how a material may gain or lose magnetism by accounting for how atoms interact with each other and an applied magnetic field. In their model, they replaced the property of an atom's magnetic spin (either up or down) with the property of frozen (white) or melted (blue) sea ice.

"The model captures the essential mechanism of pattern formation of Arctic melt ponds," the researchers write, and replicates important characteristics of the variation in pond size and geometry. This work is the first to account for the basic physics of melt ponds and to produce realistic patterns that accurately demonstrate how melt water is distributed over the sea ice surface. The geometry of the melt water patterns determines both sea ice albedo and the amount of light that penetrates the ice, which significantly impacts the ecology of the upper ocean.

Unfortunately, a model like this can't halt the ice from melting. But it can help us make better estimates of how quickly Arctic ice or permafrost is disappearing--and better climate models help us prepare for the warmer future ahead.
-end-
Find the full study, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Office of Naval Research, Northumbria University, the RFBR and the NSF Math Climate Research Network, here:  https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1367-2630/ab26db

University of Utah

Related Sea Ice Articles:

Evidence: Antarctica's thinning ice shelves causing more ice to move from land into sea
New study provides the first evidence that thinning ice shelves around Antarctica are causing more ice to move from the land into the sea.
Low sea-ice cover in the Arctic
The sea-ice extent in the Arctic is nearing its annual minimum at the end of the melt season in September.
Arctic sea ice 2019 wintertime extent is seventh lowest
Sea ice in the Arctic appears to have hit its annual maximum extent after growing through the fall and winter.
Study shows algae thrive under Greenland sea ice
Microscopic marine plants flourish beneath the ice that covers the Greenland Sea, according to a new study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.
ICESat-2 reveals profile of ice sheets, sea ice, forests
With each pass of the ICESat-2 satellite, the mission is adding to datasets tracking Earth's rapidly changing ice.
Arctic cyclone limits the time-scale of precise sea-ice prediction in Northern Sea Route?
Climate change has accelerated sea-ice retreat in the Arctic Ocean, leading to new opportunities for summer commercial maritime navigation along the Northern Sea Route.
Ocean waves following sea ice loss trigger Antarctic ice shelf collapse
Storm-driven ocean swells have triggered the catastrophic disintegration of Antarctic ice shelves in recent decades, according to new research published in Nature today.
New technique more accurately reflects ponds on Arctic sea ice
This one simple mathematical trick can accurately predict the shape and melting effects of ponds on Arctic sea ice, according to new research by UChicago scientists.
Arctic wintertime sea ice extent is among lowest on record
Sea ice in the Arctic grew to its annual maximum extent last week, and joined 2015, 2016 and 2017 as the four lowest maximum extents on record, according to scientists at the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.
Sea ice algae blooms in the dark
Researchers from Aarhus University have measured a new world record: Small ice algae on the underside of the Arctic sea ice live and grow at a light level corresponding to only 0.02 percent of the light at the surface of the ice.
More Sea Ice News and Sea Ice Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Accessing Better Health
Essential health care is a right, not a privilege ... or is it? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can give everyone access to a healthier way of life, despite who you are or where you live. Guests include physician Raj Panjabi, former NYC health commissioner Mary Bassett, researcher Michael Hendryx, and neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#544 Prosperity Without Growth
The societies we live in are organised around growth, objects, and driving forward a constantly expanding economy as benchmarks of success and prosperity. But this growing consumption at all costs is at odds with our understanding of what our planet can support. How do we lower the environmental impact of economic activity? How do we redefine success and prosperity separate from GDP, which politicians and governments have focused on for decades? We speak with ecological economist Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Propserity, and author of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab