17 Jan 2022
17 Jan 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Quantifying the climatic impact of crude oil pollution on sea ice albedo

Benjamin Heikki Redmond Roche and Martin D. King Benjamin Heikki Redmond Roche and Martin D. King
  • Department of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey, TW20 0EX, UK

Abstract. Sea ice albedo is an important component of the Earth’s climate and is affected by low background concentrations of oil droplets within the ice matrix that absorb solar radiation. In this study the albedo response of three different types of sea ice (multi-year, first-year, and melting sea ice) are calculated at increasing mass ratios (0–1000 ng g−1) of crude oil by using a coupled atmosphere-sea ice radiative-transfer model (TUV-snow) over the optical wavelengths 400–700 nm. The different types of quasi-infinite thickness sea ice exhibit different albedo responses to oil pollution, with a 1000 ng g−1 mass ratio of oil causing a decrease to 70.9 % in multi-year sea ice, 47.9 % in first-year sea ice, and 22 % in melting sea ice relative to the unpolluted albedo at a wavelength of 400 nm. The thickness of the sea ice is also an important factor, with realistic thickness sea ices exhibiting similar results, albeit with a weaker albedo response for multi-year sea ice to 75.3 %, first-year sea ice to 66.7 %, and melting sea ice to 35.7 %. The type of oil also plays a significant role on the response of sea ice albedo, with a relatively opaque and heavy crude oil (Romashkino oil) causing a significantly larger decrease in sea ice albedo than a relatively transparent light crude oil (Petrobaltic oil). The size of the oil droplets polluting the oil also plays a minor role in the albedo response, with weathered submicron droplets (0.05–0.5 µm radius) of Romashkino oil being the most absorbing across the optical wavelengths considered. Therefore, the work presented here demonstrates that low background concentrations of small submicron to micron-sized oil droplets have a significant effect on sea ice albedo. All three types of sea ice are affected, however first-year sea ice and particularly melting sea ice are very sensitive to oil pollution; thus, the Arctic may become more vulnerable to oil pollution as the ice becomes progressively thinner and younger in response to a changing climate.

Benjamin Heikki Redmond Roche and Martin D. King

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on tc-2021-372', Anonymous Referee #1, 02 Mar 2022
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Ben Redmond Roche, 08 Apr 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on tc-2021-372', Anonymous Referee #2, 10 Apr 2022

Benjamin Heikki Redmond Roche and Martin D. King

Benjamin Heikki Redmond Roche and Martin D. King


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Latest update: 24 May 2022
Short summary
Sea ice is bright, playing an important role in reflecting incoming solar radiation. The reflectivity of sea ice is affected by the presence of pollutants, such as crude oil, even at low concentrations. Modelling how the brightness of three different types of sea is affected by increasing concentrations of crude oils show that the type of oil, the type of ice, the thickness of the ice, and the size of the oil droplets are important factors. This shows that sea ice is vulnerable to oil pollution.