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Solar partitioning in a changing Arctic sea-ice cover


The summer extent of the Arctic sea-ice cover has decreased in recent decades and there have been alterations in the timing and duration of the summer melt season. These changes in ice conditions have affected the partitioning of solar radiation in the Arctic atmosphere–ice–ocean system. The impact of sea-ice changes on solar partitioning is examined on a pan-Arctic scale using a 25 km x 25 km Equal-Area Scalable Earth Grid for the years 1979–2007. Daily values of incident solar irradiance are obtained from NCEP reanalysis products adjusted by ERA-40, and ice concentrations are determined from passive microwave satellite data. The albedo of the ice is parameterized by a five-stage process that includes dry snow, melting snow, melt pond formation, melt pond evolution, and freeze-up. The timing of these stages is governed by the onset dates of summer melt and fall freeze-up, which are determined from satellite observations. Trends of solar heat input to the ice were mixed, with increases due to longer melt seasons and decreases due to reduced ice concentration. Results indicate a general trend of increasing solar heat input to the Arctic ice–ocean system due to declines in albedo induced by decreases in ice concentration and longer melt seasons. The evolution of sea-ice albedo, and hence the total solar heating of the ice–ocean system, is more sensitive to the date of melt onset than the date of fall freeze-up. The largest increases in total annual solar heat input from 1979 to 2007, averaging as much as 4% a–1, occurred in the Chukchi Sea region. The contribution of solar heat to the ocean is increasing faster than the contribution to the ice due to the loss of sea ice.