Articles | Volume 8, issue 6
Research article
28 Nov 2014
Research article |  | 28 Nov 2014

Seasonal cycle and long-term trend of solar energy fluxes through Arctic sea ice

S. Arndt and M. Nicolaus

Abstract. Arctic sea ice has not only decreased in volume during the last decades, but has also changed in its physical properties towards a thinner and more seasonal ice cover. These changes strongly impact the energy budget, and might affect the ice-associated ecosystems. In this study, we quantify solar shortwave fluxes through sea ice for the entire Arctic during all seasons. To focus on sea-ice-related processes, we exclude fluxes through open water, scaling linearly with sea ice concentration. We present a new parameterization of light transmittance through sea ice for all seasons as a function of variable sea ice properties. The maximum monthly mean solar heat flux under the ice of 30 × 105 Jm−2 occurs in June, enough heat to melt 0.3 m of sea ice. Furthermore, our results suggest that 96% of the annual solar heat input through sea ice occurs during only a 4-month period from May to August. Applying the new parameterization to remote sensing and reanalysis data from 1979 to 2011, we find an increase in transmitted light of 1.5% yr−1 for all regions. This corresponds to an increase in potential sea ice bottom melt of 63% over the 33-year study period. Sensitivity studies reveal that the results depend strongly on the timing of melt onset and the correct classification of ice types. Assuming 2 weeks earlier melt onset, the annual transmitted solar radiation to the upper ocean increases by 20%. Continuing the observed transition from a mixed multi-year/first-year sea ice cover to a seasonal ice cover results in an increase in light transmittance by an additional 18%.