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Estimating the sea ice floe size distribution using satellite altimetry: Theory, climatology, and model comparison

Horvat, C; Roach, LA; Tilling, R; Bitz, CM; Fox-Kemper, B; Guider, C; Hill, K; ... Shepherd, A; + view all (2019) Estimating the sea ice floe size distribution using satellite altimetry: Theory, climatology, and model comparison. Cryosphere , 13 (11) pp. 2869-2885. 10.5194/tc-13-2869-2019. Green open access

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Abstract

In sea-ice-covered areas, the sea ice floe size distribution (FSD) plays an important role in many processes affecting the coupled sea-ice-ocean-atmosphere system. Observations of the FSD are sparse - traditionally taken via a painstaking analysis of ice surface photography - and the seasonal and inter-annual evolution of floe size regionally and globally is largely unknown. Frequently, measured FSDs are assessed using a single number, the scaling exponent of the closest power-law fit to the observed floe size data, although in the absence of adequate datasets there have been limited tests of this "power-law hypothesis". Here we derive and explain a mathematical technique for deriving statistics of the sea ice FSD from polar-orbiting altimeters, satellites with sub-daily return times to polar regions with high along-track resolutions. Applied to the CryoSat-2 radar altimetric record, covering the period from 2010 to 2018, and incorporating 11 million individual floe samples, we produce the first pan-Arctic climatology and seasonal cycle of sea ice floe size statistics. We then perform the first pan-Arctic test of the power-law hypothesis, finding limited support in the range of floe sizes typically analyzed in photographic observational studies. We compare the seasonal variability in observed floe size to fully coupled climate model simulations including a prognostic floe size and thickness distribution and coupled wave model, finding good agreement in regions where modeled ocean surface waves cause sea ice fracture.

Type: Article
Title: Estimating the sea ice floe size distribution using satellite altimetry: Theory, climatology, and model comparison
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.5194/tc-13-2869-2019
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-13-2869-2019
Language: English
Additional information: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Earth Sciences
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10086567
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