Articles | Volume 7, issue 3
Research article
20 Jun 2013
Research article |  | 20 Jun 2013

Variability of light transmission through Arctic land-fast sea ice during spring

M. Nicolaus, C. Petrich, S. R. Hudson, and M. A. Granskog

Abstract. The amount of solar radiation transmitted through Arctic sea ice is determined by the thickness and physical properties of snow and sea ice. Light transmittance is highly variable in space and time since thickness and physical properties of snow and sea ice are highly heterogeneous on variable time and length scales. We present field measurements of under-ice irradiance along transects under undeformed land-fast sea ice at Barrow, Alaska (March, May, and June 2010). The measurements were performed with a spectral radiometer mounted on a floating under-ice sled. The objective was to quantify the spatial variability of light transmittance through snow and sea ice, and to compare this variability along its seasonal evolution. Along with optical measurements, snow depth, sea ice thickness, and freeboard were recorded, and ice cores were analyzed for chlorophyll a and particulate matter. Our results show that snow cover variability prior to onset of snow melt causes as much relative spatial variability of light transmittance as the contrast of ponded and white ice during summer. Both before and after melt onset, measured transmittances fell in a range from one third to three times the mean value. In addition, we found a twentyfold increase of light transmittance as a result of partial snowmelt, showing the seasonal evolution of transmittance through sea ice far exceeds the spatial variability. However, prior melt onset, light transmittance was time invariant and differences in under-ice irradiance were directly related to the spatial variability of the snow cover.