Arctic melt ponds form when meltwater clogs ice pores
When spring comes to the Arctic, the breakup of the cold winter ice sheets starts at the surface with the formation of melt ponds. These pools of melted snow and ice darken the surface of the ice, increasing the amount of solar energy the ice sheet absorbs and accelerating melt. A team including University of Utah mathematician Kenneth Golden has determined how these melt ponds form, solving a paradoxical mystery of how a pool of water actually sits atop highly porous ice. Their results are published in Journal of Geophysical Research -- Oceans.
"Here we're presented with this fundamental puzzle," Golden says. "How in the world do you form ponds? When they form, how deep they are, and their areal extent is absolutely critical for how the ice is going to melt."
Golden studies the dynamics of sea ice, which is a composite system of solids and liquids of varying salinity and chemistry. Melt ponds are a focus of his research because they dramatically affect the albedo, or reflectiveness, of the sea ice, one of the most important parameters in climate modeling. They also may allow more light to penetrate through the ice, allowing algae to proliferate in the seawater beneath.
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