Articles | Volume 10, issue 6
Research article
15 Dec 2016
Research article |  | 15 Dec 2016

Circumpolar polynya regions and ice production in the Arctic: results from MODIS thermal infrared imagery from 2002/2003 to 2014/2015 with a regional focus on the Laptev Sea

Andreas Preußer, Günther Heinemann, Sascha Willmes, and Stephan Paul

Abstract. High-resolution MODIS thermal infrared satellite data are used to infer spatial and temporal characteristics of 17 prominent coastal polynya regions over the entire Arctic basin. Thin-ice thickness (TIT) distributions (≤ 20 cm) are calculated from MODIS ice-surface temperatures, combined with ECMWF ERA-Interim atmospheric reanalysis data in an energy balance model for 13 winter seasons (2002/2003 to 2014/2015; November to March). From all available MODIS swath data, daily thin-ice thickness composites are computed in order to derive quantities such as polynya area and total thermodynamic (i.e., potential) ice production. A gap-filling approach is applied to account for cloud and data gaps in the MODIS composites. All polynya regions combined cover an average thin-ice area of 226.6 ± 36.1 × 103 km2 in winter. This allows for an average total winter-accumulated ice production of about 1811 ± 293 km3, whereby the Kara Sea region, the North Water polynya (both 15 %), polynyas on the western side of Novaya Zemlya (20 %), as well as scattered smaller polynyas in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (all combined 12 %) are the main contributors. Other well-known sites of polynya formation (Laptev Sea, Chukchi Sea) show smaller contributions and range between 2 and 5 %. We notice distinct differences to earlier studies on pan-Arctic polynya characteristics, originating in some part from the use of high-resolution MODIS data, as the capability to resolve small-scale (> 2 km) polynyas and also large leads are increased. Despite the short record of 13 winter seasons, positive trends in ice production are detected for several regions of the eastern Arctic (most significantly in the Laptev Sea region with an increase of 6.8 km3 yr−1) and the North Water polynya, while other polynyas in the western Arctic show a more pronounced variability with varying trends. We emphasize the role of the Laptev Sea polynyas as being a major influence on Transpolar Drift characteristics through a distinct relation between increasing ice production and ice area export. Overall, our study presents a spatially highly accurate characterization of circumpolar polynya dynamics and ice production, which should be valuable for future modeling efforts of atmosphere–ice–ocean interactions in the Arctic.

Short summary
We present spatial and temporal characteristics of 17 Arctic polynya regions. By using an energy balance model, daily thin-ice thickness distributions are derived from TIR satellite and atmospheric reanalysis data. All polynyas combined yield an average ice production of about 1811 km3 per winter. Interestingly, we find distinct regional differences in calculated trends over the last 13 years. Finally, we set a special focus on the Laptev Sea region and its relation to the Transpolar Drift.