Sea-ice thermodynamics and brine drainage

12 Sep 2017

Significant changes in the state of the Arctic ice cover are occurring. As the summertime extent of sea ice diminishes, the Arctic is increasingly characterized by first-year rather than multi-year ice. It is during the early stages of ice growth that most brine is injected into the oceans, contributing to the buoyancy flux that mediates the thermo-haline circulation. Current operational sea-ice components of climate models often treat brine rejection between sea ice and the ocean similarly to a thermodynamic segregation process, assigning a fixed salinity to the sea ice, typical of multi-year ice. However, brine rejection is a dynamical, buoyancy-driven process and the salinity of sea ice varies significantly during the first growth season. As a result, current operational models may over predict the early brine fluxes from newly formed sea ice, which may have consequences for coupled simulations of the polar oceans. Improvements both in computational power and our understanding of the processes involved have led to the emergence of a new class of sea-ice models that treat brine rejection dynamically and should enhance predictions of the buoyancy forcing of the oceans.