The impact of sediment-laden snow and sea ice in the Arctic on climate

Tamara Shapiro Ledley, Stephanie Pfirman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Sea ice formed over shallow Arctic shelves often entrains sediments resuspended from the sea floor. Some of this sediment-laden ice advects offshore into the Transpolar Drift Stream and the Beaufort Gyre of the Arctic Basin. Through the processes of seasonal melting at the top surface, and the freezing of clean ice on the bottom surface, these sediments tend, over time, to concentrate at the top of the ice where they can affect the surface albedo, and thus the absorbed solar radiation, when the ice is snow free. Similarly, wind-blown dust can reduce the albedo of snow. The question that is posed by this study is what is the impact of these sediments on the seasonal variation of sea ice, and how does it then affect climate? Experiments were conducted with a coupled energy balance climate-thermodynamic sea ice model to examine the impact of including sediments in the sea ice alone and in the sea ice and overlying snow. The focus of these experiments was the impact of the radiative and not the thermal properties of the sediments. The results suggest that if sea ice contains a significant amount of sediments which are covered by clean snow, there is only a small impact on the climate system. However, if the snow also contains significant sediments the impact on sea ice thickness and surface air temperature is much more significant.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)641-664
Number of pages24
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


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