Articles | Volume 6, issue 1
The Cryosphere, 6, 143–156, 2012
The Cryosphere, 6, 143–156, 2012

Research article 02 Feb 2012

Research article | 02 Feb 2012

Influence of sea ice lead-width distribution on turbulent heat transfer between the ocean and the atmosphere

S. Marcq and J. Weiss S. Marcq and J. Weiss
  • Laboratoire de Glaciologie et de Géophysique de l'Environnement, UMR CNRS 5183, Université Joseph Fourier, 54, rue Molière, BP 96, 38402 St Martin d'Hères cedex, France

Abstract. Leads are linear-like structures of open water within the sea ice cover that develop as the result of fracturing due to divergence or shear. Through leads, air and water come into contact and directly exchange latent and sensible heat through convective processes driven by the large temperature and moisture differences between them. In the central Arctic, leads only cover 1 to 2% of the ocean during winter, but account for more than 70% of the upward heat fluxes. Furthermore, narrow leads (several meters) are more than twice as efficient at transmitting turbulent heat than larger ones (several hundreds of meters). We show that lead widths are power law distributed, P(X)~X−a with a>1, down to very small spatial scales (20 m or below). This implies that the open water fraction is by far dominated by very small leads. Using two classical formulations, which provide first order turbulence closure for the fetch-dependence of heat fluxes, we find that the mean heat fluxes (sensible and latent) over open water are up to 55% larger when considering the lead-width distribution obtained from a SPOT satellite image of the ice cover, compared to the situation where the open water fraction constitutes one unique large lead and the rest of the area is covered by ice, as it is usually considered in climate models at the grid scale. This difference may be even larger if we assume that the power law scaling of lead widths extends down to smaller (~1 m) scales. Such estimations may be a first step towards a subgrid scale parameterization of the spatial distribution of open water for heat fluxes calculations in ocean/sea ice coupled models.