Synopsis: How the Ice Floes Flow

The behavior of the increasingly thin ice found in the Arctic Ocean can be modeled as a two-dimensional, granular gas.
Synopsis figure
A. Herman, Phys. Rev. E (2011)

For several years, climate change has been implicated in the decline of the thick Arctic Ocean ice that builds up over many seasons and its replacement by thin, seasonal ice. The thinner ice, which has increasingly melted away during the height of summer each year, suffers far more deformation and fracture than thicker ice. Unfortunately, compared to thick, perennial ice, much less is known about the physical properties of this thin, broken ice, which consists largely of separate moving flat chunks or floes.

In a paper in Physical Review E, Agnieszka Herman of the University of Gdansk, Poland, tackles this problem by modeling fragmented ice as a two-dimensional, granular gas. In this picture, the separate ice floes move on the sea surface as rigid and nondeformable entities that lose kinetic energy because of inelastic collisions between them. The author reports that the model qualitatively reproduces the kind of motion and clustering seen in satellite imagery of the Arctic; future work will emphasize more quantitative modeling as better observational data become available, in particular, how floe clustering affects mass and heat transport. Such numerical modeling can contribute vital knowledge of seasonal cycles of sea ice coverage and its involvement with global climate change. – David Voss


More Announcements »

Subject Areas

Interdisciplinary PhysicsMaterials Science

Previous Synopsis

Particles and Fields

When Two Baryons Scatter

Read More »

Next Synopsis

Related Articles

Synopsis: Flocks Without Memory
Biological Physics

Synopsis: Flocks Without Memory

Moving particles with no memory can group together in complex flock configurations using only instantaneous cues.   Read More »

Focus: Why Some Gels Shrink under Stress

Focus: Why Some Gels Shrink under Stress

The gel material that helps blood clot in a wound has anomalous material properties because of the interaction between the gel's fluid and its microscopic fiber network, according to experiments. Read More »

Synopsis: A New Way to Make Graphene

Synopsis: A New Way to Make Graphene

The addition of a rapid-cooling step to the epitaxial growth of graphene on silicon carbide can yield higher-quality graphene sheets. Read More »

More Articles