Articles | Volume 10, issue 4
Research article
19 Jul 2016
Research article |  | 19 Jul 2016

Arctic sea-ice diffusion from observed and simulated Lagrangian trajectories

Pierre Rampal, Sylvain Bouillon, Jon Bergh, and Einar Ólason

Abstract. We characterize sea-ice drift by applying a Lagrangian diffusion analysis to buoy trajectories from the International Arctic Buoy Programme (IABP) dataset and from two different models: the standalone Lagrangian sea-ice model neXtSIM and the Eulerian coupled ice–ocean model used for the TOPAZ reanalysis. By applying the diffusion analysis to the IABP buoy trajectories over the period 1979–2011, we confirm that sea-ice diffusion follows two distinct regimes (ballistic and Brownian) and we provide accurate values for the diffusivity and integral timescale that could be used in Eulerian or Lagrangian passive tracers models to simulate the transport and diffusion of particles moving with the ice. We discuss how these values are linked to the evolution of the fluctuating displacements variance and how this information could be used to define the size of the search area around the position predicted by the mean drift. By comparing observed and simulated sea-ice trajectories for three consecutive winter seasons (2007–2011), we show how the characteristics of the simulated motion may differ from or agree well with observations. This comparison illustrates the usefulness of first applying a diffusion analysis to evaluate the output of modeling systems that include a sea-ice model before using these in, e.g., oil spill trajectory models or, more generally, to simulate the transport of passive tracers in sea ice.

Short summary
Due to the increasing activity in Arctic, sea-ice–ocean models are now frequently used to produce operational forecasts, for oil spill trajectory modelling and to assist in offshore operations planning. In this study we evaluate the performance of two models with respect to their capability to reproduce observed sea ice diffusion properties by using metrics based on Lagrangian statistics. This paper presents a new and useful evaluation metric for current coupled sea ice–ocean models.