Accessibility navigation

Sea ice floe size: its impact on pan-Arctic and local ice mass and required model complexity

Bateson, A. W. ORCID:, Feltham, D. L., Schröder, D. ORCID:, Wang, Y., Hwang, B., Ridley, J. K. and Aksenov, Y. (2022) Sea ice floe size: its impact on pan-Arctic and local ice mass and required model complexity. The Cryosphere, 16 (6). pp. 2565-2593. ISSN 1994-0424

Text (Open access) - Published Version
· Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.
· Please see our End User Agreement before downloading.


It is advisable to refer to the publisher's version if you intend to cite from this work. See Guidance on citing.

To link to this item DOI: 10.5194/tc-16-2565-2022


Sea ice is composed of discrete units called floes. Observations show that these floes can adopt a range of sizes spanning orders of magnitude, from metres to tens of kilometres. Floe size impacts the nature and magnitude of interactions between the sea ice, ocean, and atmosphere including lateral melt rate and momentum and heat exchange. However, large-scale geophysical sea ice models employ a continuum approach and traditionally either assume floes adopt a constant size or do not include an explicit treatment of floe size. In this study we apply novel observations to analyse two alternative approaches to modelling a floe size distribution (FSD) within the state-of-the-art CICE sea ice model. The first model considered is a prognostic floe size–thickness distribution where the shape of the distribution is an emergent feature of the model and is not assumed a priori. The second model considered, the WIPoFSD (Waves-in-Ice module and Power law Floe Size Distribution) model, assumes floe size follows a power law with a constant exponent. We introduce a parameterisation motivated by idealised models of in-plane brittle fracture to the prognostic model and demonstrate that the inclusion of this scheme enables the prognostic model to achieve a reasonable match against the novel observations for mid-sized floes (100 m–2 km). While neither FSD model results in a significant improvement in the ability of CICE to simulate pan-Arctic metrics in a stand-alone sea ice configuration, larger impacts can be seen over regional scales in sea ice concentration and thickness. We find that the prognostic model particularly enhances sea ice melt in the early melt season, whereas for the WIPoFSD model this melt increase occurs primarily during the late melt season. We then show that these differences between the two FSD models can be explained by considering the effective floe size, a metric used to characterise a given FSD. Finally, we discuss the advantages and disadvantages to these different approaches to modelling the FSD. We note that although the WIPoFSD model is unable to represent potentially important features of annual FSD evolution seen with the prognostic model, it is less computationally expensive and produces a better fit to novel FSD observations derived from 2 m resolution MEDEA imagery, possibly making this a stronger candidate for inclusion in climate models.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:105966
Publisher:Copernicus GmbH (Copernicus Publications)


Downloads per month over past year

University Staff: Request a correction | Centaur Editors: Update this record

Page navigation