High Resolution Remote Sensing Observations of Summer Sea Ice

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Buckley, Ellen Margaret
Farrell, Sinéad L
During the Arctic summer melt season, the sea ice transitions from a consolidated ice pack with a highly reflective snow-covered surface to a disintegrating unconsolidated pack with melt ponds spotting the ice surface. The albedo of the Arctic decreases by up to 50%, resulting in increased absorption of solar radiation, triggering the positive sea ice albedo feedback that further enhances melting. Summer melt processes occur at a small scale and are required for melt pond parameterization in models and quantifying albedo change. Arctic-wide observations of melt features were however not available until recently. In this work we develop original techniques for the analysis of high-resolution remote sensing observations of summer sea ice. By applying novel algorithms to data acquired from airborne and satellite sensors onboard IceBridge, Sentinel-2, WorldView and ICESat-2, we derive a set of parameters that describe melt conditions on Arctic sea ice in summer. We present a new, pixel-based classification scheme to identify melt features in high-resolution summer imagery. We apply the classification algorithm to IceBridge Digital Mapping System data and find a greater melt pond fraction (25%) on sea ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, a region consisting of predominantly first year ice, compared to the Central Arctic, where the melt pond fraction is 14% on predominantly multiyear ice. Expanding the study to observations acquired by the Sentinel-2 Multispectral Instrument, we track the variability in melt pond fraction and sea ice concentration with time, focusing on the anomalously warm summer of 2020. So as to obtain a three-dimensional view of the evolution of summer melt we also exploit ICESat-2 surface elevation measurements. We develop and apply the Melt Pond Algorithm to track ponds in ICESat-2 photon cloud data and derive their depth. Pond depth measurements in conjunction with melt pond fraction and sea ice concentration provide insights into the regional patterns and temporal evolution of melt on summer sea ice. We found mean melt pond fraction increased rapidly in the beginning of the melt season, peaking at 16% on 24 June 2020, while median pond depths increased steadily from 0.4 m at the beginning of the melt season, to peaking at 0.97 m on 16 July, even as melt pond fraction had begun to decrease. Our findings may be used to improve parameterization of melt processes in models, quantify freshwater storage, and study the partitioning of under ice light.