Articles | Volume 11, issue 6
Research article
24 Nov 2017
Research article |  | 24 Nov 2017

Wave-induced stress and breaking of sea ice in a coupled hydrodynamic discrete-element wave–ice model

Agnieszka Herman

Abstract. In this paper, a coupled sea ice–wave model is developed and used to analyze wave-induced stress and breaking in sea ice for a range of wave and ice conditions. The sea ice module is a discrete-element bonded-particle model, in which ice is represented as cuboid grains floating on the water surface that can be connected to their neighbors by elastic joints. The joints may break if instantaneous stresses acting on them exceed their strength. The wave module is based on an open-source version of the Non-Hydrostatic WAVE model (NHWAVE). The two modules are coupled with proper boundary conditions for pressure and velocity, exchanged at every wave model time step. In the present version, the model operates in two dimensions (one vertical and one horizontal) and is suitable for simulating compact ice in which heave and pitch motion dominates over surge. In a series of simulations with varying sea ice properties and incoming wavelength it is shown that wave-induced stress reaches maximum values at a certain distance from the ice edge. The value of maximum stress depends on both ice properties and characteristics of incoming waves, but, crucially for ice breaking, the location at which the maximum occurs does not change with the incoming wavelength. Consequently, both regular and random (Jonswap spectrum) waves break the ice into floes with almost identical sizes. The width of the zone of broken ice depends on ice strength and wave attenuation rates in the ice.

Short summary
It is often assumed that ocean waves break sea ice into floes with sizes depending on wavelength. The results of this modeling study (in agreement with some earlier observations and models) suggest that this is not the case; instead the sizes of ice floes produced by wave breaking depend only on ice thickness and mechanical properties. This may have important consequences for predicting sea ice response to oceanic and atmospheric forcing in regions where sea ice is influenced by waves.