An X-ray micro-tomographic study of the pore space, permeability and percolation threshold of young sea ice

Maus, Sönke; Schneebeli, Martin; Wiegmann, Andreas

The hydraulic permeability of sea ice is an important property that influences the role of sea ice in the environment in many ways. As it is difficult to measure, so far not many observations exist, and the quality of deduced empirical relationships between porosity and permeability is unknown. The present work presents a study of the permeability of young sea ice based on the combination of brine extraction in a centrifuge, X-ray micro-tomographic imaging and direct numerical simulations. The approach is new for sea ice. It allows us to relate the permeability and percolation properties explicitly to characteristic properties of the sea ice pore space, in particular to pore size and connectivity metrics. For the young sea ice from the present field study we obtain a brine volume of 2 % to 3 % as a threshold for the vertical permeability (transition to impermeable sea ice). We are able to relate this transition to the necking of brine pores at a critical pore throat diameter of inline-formula≈0.07 mm, being consistent with some limited pore analysis from earlier studies. Our optimal estimate of critical brine porosity is half the value of 5 % proposed in earlier work and frequently adopted in sea ice model studies and applications. By placing our results in the broader context of earlier studies, we conclude that the present threshold is more significant in that our centrifuge experiments and high-resolution 3D image analysis enable us to more accurately identify the threshold below which fluid connectivity ceases by examining the brine inclusion microstructure on finer scales than were previously possible. We also find some evidence that the sea ice pore space should be described by directed rather than isotropic percolation. Our revised porosity threshold is valid for the permeability of young columnar sea ice dominated by primary pores. For older sea ice containing wider secondary brine channels, for granular sea ice and for the full-thickness bulk permeability, other thresholds may apply.

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Maus, Sönke / Schneebeli, Martin / Wiegmann, Andreas: An X-ray micro-tomographic study of the pore space, permeability and percolation threshold of young sea ice. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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