Snow on Sea Ice

Snow on sea ice is a crucial parameter for climate-related processes. An important feature of snow is given by its high albedo. Therefore, snow on sea ice is a major factor for the Earth’s energy budget. On the other hand, during summer, melted snow represents an important fresh water input, which affects density and salinity layers of the ocean. Besides its direct climatic impact, the snow layer also adds to the uncertainty of sea ice thickness estimates by satellite altimeters.

Magna probe survey on Antarctic sea ice
Magna probe survey on Antarctic sea ice (Photo: M. Schiller, AWI)

We perform snow thickness measurements during Polarstern expeditions by using a “magna probe”, an electronic handheld device which is used to collect snow thickness measurements in the vicinity of the research vessel.

Snow buoy, deployed on sea ice
Snow buoy, deployed on sea ice (Photo: A. Mahony, University of Alaska Fairbanks)

We deploy snow buoys in the Arctic and Antarctic. They are equipped with echo sounders to record changes at the snow surface. Buoy data can be accessed via the Meereisportal.

Snow pit on sea ice, revealing different layers
Snow pit on sea ice, revealing different layers (Photo: S. Arndt, AWI)

In order to characterize different snow layers, snow pits are prepared during Polarstern expeditions. In addition, we use remote sensing products to obtain the distribution of snow on a hemispherical scale.