Waves and ice

Waves occur when wind creates ripples on the sea surface, and when wind persists, the ripples will grow into waves. Waves will not be able to occur where there is sea ice. Where the sea ice meets open water, waves will cause the ice to break up, and a zone of small and large ice floes is created between open water and dense ice. This is called the marginal ice zone. Waves in this zone can also spread into ice-covered areas.

It is in the marginal ice zone that most of the sea ice freezes or melts. In this zone there is bustling animal life, and the area in the ice where there is the greatest boat traffic and other human activity. We use remote sensing data and sea-ice and wave models we have developed to study how waves and ice interact. Furthermore, we look at the significance of this interaction for the bustling animal life under, on and above the ice, and for the climate. To increase the understanding of this special area, a method has been developed which observes waves and sea ice at the same time. It is based on the self-developed sea-ice model “neXtSIM”, which coupled with a wave model recreates the complicated interaction between waves and sea ice.

With the decreasing sea-ice cover, it is expected that waves in the marginal ice zone will occur more frequently and become larger. This in turn affects how the ice breaks up. Warmer water from the depths will rise and further reduce the ice cover. We do research to understand the changes and their impact on the Arctic environment and develop alerts that have information on both waves and sea ice at the same time. This will provide more precise warnings about sea ice in the marginal ice zone, as well as how waves contribute to breaking up the sea ice.

For more information, contact research leader Einar Ólason.


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Client: Schmidt Futures
Project owner: French National Centre for Scientific Research
Project leader at the Nansen Center: Einar Ólason