Featured Researchers

Ignatius Rigor

Senior Principal Research Scientist

PSC Department


Affiliate Assistant Professor, Oceanography

Melinda Webster

Research Scientist/Engineer - Principal

PSC Department





International Arctic Buoy Programme

Declining Snow Accumulations on Arctic Sea Ice

We expected the decline because of the decreasing summer sea ice extent. Most of the snow falls in early autumn when the sea ice has retreated.

If there is a delay in sea ice freeze-up that means there is no platform for the snow to accumulate upon.

Snow is a critical interface between ocean, sea ice, and atmosphere. Synthesis of airborne, in situ, and modeling data will aid understanding of its role.

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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.

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