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Springtime melt onset on arctic sea ice from satellite observations and related atmospheric conditions

Angela C Bliss, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The timing of snowmelt onset (MO) on Arctic sea ice derived from passive microwave satellite data is examined by determining the melting area (in km 2) on a daily basis for the spring and summer melt season months over the 1979 – 2012 data record. The date of MO on Arctic sea ice has important implications for the amount of total solar energy absorbed by the ice-ocean system in a given year. Increasingly early mean MO dates have been recorded over the 34-year data record. Statistically significant trends indicate that MO is occurring 6.6 days decade-1 earlier in the year over all Arctic sea ice extent. Larger trends exist in sub-regions of the Arctic Ocean including the Barents, Kara, Laptev, East Siberian, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas and in the Central Arctic region. The Bering Sea is the only sub-region of the Arctic that has a positive trend in mean MO date indicating that melting is occurring later in the year. Temporal and spatial variability in melting events are examined in the time series of daily MO areas via the identification of several types of melting events. These melting events are characterized based on the magnitude of area melted and duration of the event. Daily maps of MO during melting events are compared with the atmospheric conditions from reanalysis data to investigate the nature of spatial variability in melting area. The occurrence of transient cyclones tends to produce large, contiguous areas of melting on sea ice located in the warm sector of the cyclone. By contrast, high pressure and attendant clear sky conditions tend to produce sporadic, discontinuous areas of melting area. Interannual variability in daily MO area is assessed using an annual accumulation of daily MO area for each melt season. Trends in mean MO dates are evident in the annual accumulations, however, regional variability is high and outlier events can occur. This work illustrates the need for a better understanding of the synoptic weather conditions leading to specific patterns in MO area to improve the predictability of early season Arctic sea ice response to a changing climate.

Subject Area

Meteorology|Atmospheric sciences|Remote sensing

Recommended Citation

Bliss, Angela C, "Springtime melt onset on arctic sea ice from satellite observations and related atmospheric conditions" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3689880.