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 Features »

Subject Areas

Interdisciplinary PhysicsMaterials Science

Previous Synopsis

Particles and Fields

When Two Baryons Scatter

Read More »

Next Synopsis

Related Articles

Focus: Imaging with Your Wi-Fi Hotspot
Interdisciplinary Physics

Focus: Imaging with Your Wi-Fi Hotspot

The Wi-Fi signals that provide internet access can also produce images of the transmitter’s 3D surroundings, even through walls. Read More »

Synopsis: Protons in the Fast Lane
Energy Research

Synopsis: Protons in the Fast Lane

A proposed graphene-based material could offer speedy transport of protons without the need for water. Read More »

Focus: 3D Images 10 Times Faster
Interdisciplinary Physics

Focus: 3D Images 10 Times Faster

3D x-ray phase-contrast images take as little as one-tenth the usual time to acquire using a technique that halves the number of required “photos.” Read More »

More Articles