Articles | Volume 6, issue 5
The Cryosphere, 6, 1157–1162, 2012
The Cryosphere, 6, 1157–1162, 2012

Research article 19 Oct 2012

Research article | 19 Oct 2012

Transition in the fractal geometry of Arctic melt ponds

C. Hohenegger1, B. Alali1, K. R. Steffen1, D. K. Perovich2,3, and K. M. Golden1 C. Hohenegger et al.
  • 1Department of Mathematics, University of Utah, 155 S 1400 E, RM 233, Salt Lake City, UT 84112–0090, USA
  • 2ERDC-CRREL, 72 Lyme Road, Hanover, NH 03755, USA
  • 3Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755, USA

Abstract. During the Arctic melt season, the sea ice surface undergoes a remarkable transformation from vast expanses of snow covered ice to complex mosaics of ice and melt ponds. Sea ice albedo, a key parameter in climate modeling, is determined by the complex evolution of melt pond configurations. In fact, ice–albedo feedback has played a major role in the recent declines of the summer Arctic sea ice pack. However, understanding melt pond evolution remains a significant challenge to improving climate projections. By analyzing area–perimeter data from hundreds of thousands of melt ponds, we find here an unexpected separation of scales, where pond fractal dimension D transitions from 1 to 2 around a critical length scale of 100 m2 in area. Pond complexity increases rapidly through the transition as smaller ponds coalesce to form large connected regions, and reaches a maximum for ponds larger than 1000 m2, whose boundaries resemble space-filling curves, with D ≈ 2. These universal features of Arctic melt pond evolution are similar to phase transitions in statistical physics. The results impact sea ice albedo, the transmitted radiation fields under melting sea ice, the heat balance of sea ice and the upper ocean, and biological productivity such as under ice phytoplankton blooms.