Physical and optical characteristics of heavily melted “rotten” Arctic sea ice
Field investigations of the properties of heavily melted “rotten” Arctic sea ice were carried out on shorefast and drifting ice off the coast of Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow), Alaska, during the melt season. While no formal criteria exist to qualify when ice becomes rotten, the objective of this study was to sample melting ice at the point at which its structural and optical properties are sufficiently advanced beyond the peak of the summer season. Baseline data on the physical (temperature, salinity, density, microstructure) and optical (light scattering) properties of shorefast ice were recorded in May and June 2015. In July of both 2015 and 2017, small boats were used to access drifting rotten ice within ∼32 km of Utqiaġvik. Measurements showed that pore space increased as ice temperature increased (−8 to 0 ∘C), ice salinity decreased (10 to 0 ppt), and bulk density decreased (0.9 to 0.6 g cm−3). Changes in pore space were characterized with thin-section microphotography and X-ray micro-computed tomography in the laboratory. These analyses yielded changes in average brine inclusion number density (which decreased from 32 to 0.01 mm−3), mean pore size (which increased from 80 µm to 3 mm), and total porosity (increased from 0 % to > 45 %) and structural anisotropy (variable, with values of generally less than 0.7). Additionally, light-scattering coefficients of the ice increased from approximately 0.06 to > 0.35 cm−1 as the ice melt progressed. Together, these findings indicate that the properties of Arctic sea ice at the end of melt season are significantly distinct from those of often-studied summertime ice. If such rotten ice were to become more prevalent in a warmer Arctic with longer melt seasons, this could have implications for the exchange of fluid and heat at the ocean surface.