Articles | Volume 12, issue 4
Research article
13 Apr 2018
Research article |  | 13 Apr 2018

The color of melt ponds on Arctic sea ice

Peng Lu, Matti Leppäranta, Bin Cheng, Zhijun Li, Larysa Istomina, and Georg Heygster

Abstract. Pond color, which creates the visual appearance of melt ponds on Arctic sea ice in summer, is quantitatively investigated using a two-stream radiative transfer model for ponded sea ice. The upwelling irradiance from the pond surface is determined and then its spectrum is transformed into RGB (red, green, blue) color space using a colorimetric method. The dependence of pond color on various factors such as water and ice properties and incident solar radiation is investigated. The results reveal that increasing underlying ice thickness Hi enhances both the green and blue intensities of pond color, whereas the red intensity is mostly sensitive to Hi for thin ice (Hi  <  1.5 m) and to pond depth Hp for thick ice (Hi  >  1.5 m), similar to the behavior of melt-pond albedo. The distribution of the incident solar spectrum F0 with wavelength affects the pond color rather than its intensity. The pond color changes from dark blue to brighter blue with increasing scattering in ice, and the influence of absorption in ice on pond color is limited. The pond color reproduced by the model agrees with field observations for Arctic sea ice in summer, which supports the validity of this study. More importantly, the pond color has been confirmed to contain information about meltwater and underlying ice, and therefore it can be used as an index to retrieve Hi and Hp. Retrievals of Hi for thin ice (Hi  <  1 m) agree better with field measurements than retrievals for thick ice, but those of Hp are not good. The analysis of pond color is a new potential method to obtain thin ice thickness in summer, although more validation data and improvements to the radiative transfer model will be needed in future.

Short summary
It is the first time that the color of melt ponds on Arctic sea ice was quantitatively and thoroughly investigated. We answer the question of why the color of melt ponds can change and what the physical and optical reasons are that lead to such changes. More importantly, melt-pond color was provided as potential data in determining ice thickness, especially under the summer conditions when other methods such as remote sensing are unavailable.