19 Jun 2023
 | 19 Jun 2023
Status: this discussion paper is a preprint. It has been under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC). The manuscript was not accepted for further review after discussion.

Review Article: Earth observations of Melt Ponds on Sea Ice

Sara Aparício

Abstract. Melt ponds are pools of open water that form during summer on sea ice surface, playing a key role in the Arctic climate and sea ice energy budget. Due to their lower albedo, melt ponds absorb more radiation than un-ponded ice, spurring further ice melt and enhancing the positive ice-albedo feedback. This feedback is expected to increase as the Arctic ice cover is moving towards a regime where multiyear ice (MYI) is being replaced by first-year ice (FYI), which presents wider melt pond coverage as well as more energy absorption with profound consequences from an energy balance perspective. Nevertheless, the lack of knowledge or inclusion of melt pond fraction (MPF) on global climate and sea ice models, is pointed as their main source of uncertainty and disparity of predictions results. This, along with the recent conclusions on the potential of MPF for enhancing the forecasting ability of summer sea ice extent, underscores the importance of accurately obtaining large and spatiotemporal scale of MPF, across the Arctic. However, observations of melt ponds are far from adequate for the Arctic ocean and for both MYI and FYI, and on a large scale this is only possible through satellite-based Earth observations (EO). This paper provides an overview of efforts in EO remote sensing studies of melt ponds, for both optical sensors and radar-based approaches. The main algorithms used for melt pond identification and the different methods for MPF retrievals are outlined, ranging from the early traditional techniques to the increasingly prevalent use of Artificial intelligence (AI), namely machine and deep learning. The current large-scale optical-based pan-Arctic MPF datasets are intercompared along with the main advantages and disadvantages of various optical and radar data-based methods for MPF retrievals. The potential of radar, namely Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technical abilities to the enhancement of reliability is analysed, since optical approaches, despite being more used, are hampered by cloud cover, spectral representativeness and resolution. Finally, current gaps in melt pond knowledge and MPF retrievals are discussed and summarised leading to the outline of further directions of research development.

Publisher's note: Copernicus Publications remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims made in the text, published maps, institutional affiliations, or any other geographical representation in this preprint. The responsibility to include appropriate place names lies with the authors.
Sara Aparício

Status: closed

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on tc-2023-75', Anonymous Referee #1, 08 Aug 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on tc-2023-75', Anonymous Referee #2, 22 Aug 2023

Status: closed

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on tc-2023-75', Anonymous Referee #1, 08 Aug 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on tc-2023-75', Anonymous Referee #2, 22 Aug 2023
Sara Aparício
Sara Aparício


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Short summary
Melt ponds are melted water pools that form in the sea ice, playing a major role in the Arctic's energy budget. Yet, they are not well-incorporated into climate models and limited observations hinder understanding of their spatial and temporal characteristics. Satellite (optical and radar) imagery present both opportunities and considerable drawbacks, but recent AI advancements have been showing promise in improving melt pond mapping/estimation supporting a better knowledge at pan-Artic scale.