Articles | Volume 12, issue 2
The Cryosphere, 12, 685–699, 2018
The Cryosphere, 12, 685–699, 2018

Research article 26 Feb 2018

Research article | 26 Feb 2018

Floe-size distributions in laboratory ice broken by waves

Agnieszka Herman1, Karl-Ulrich Evers2, and Nils Reimer2 Agnieszka Herman et al.
  • 1Institute of Oceanography, University of Gdansk, Gdansk, Poland
  • 2Arctic Technology, Hamburgische Schiffbau-Versuchsanstalt GmbH (Hamburg Ship Model Basin), Hamburg, Germany

Abstract. This paper presents the analysis of floe-size distribution (FSD) data obtained in laboratory experiments of ice breaking by waves. The experiments, performed at the Large Ice Model Basin (LIMB) of the Hamburg Ship Model Basin (Hamburgische Schiffbau-Versuchsanstalt, HSVA), consisted of a number of tests in which an initially continuous, uniform ice sheet was broken by regular waves with prescribed characteristics. The floes' characteristics (surface area; minor and major axis, and orientation of equivalent ellipse) were obtained from digital images of the ice sheets after five tests. The analysis shows that although the floe sizes cover a wide range of values (up to 5 orders of magnitude in the case of floe surface area), their probability density functions (PDFs) do not have heavy tails, but exhibit a clear cut-off at large floe sizes. Moreover, the PDFs have a maximum that can be attributed to wave-induced flexural strain, producing preferred floe sizes. It is demonstrated that the observed FSD data can be described by theoretical PDFs expressed as a weighted sum of two components, a tapered power law and a Gaussian, reflecting multiple fracture mechanisms contributing to the FSD as it evolves in time. The results are discussed in the context of theoretical and numerical research on fragmentation of sea ice and other brittle materials.

Short summary
In regions close to the ice edge, sea ice is composed of many separate ice floes of different sizes and shapes. Strong fragmentation is caused mainly by ice breaking by waves coming from the open ocean. At present, this process, although recognized as important for many other physical processes, is not well understood. In this study we present results of a laboratory study of ice breaking by waves, and we provide interpretation of those results that may guide analysis of other similar datasets.