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Sea ice is a complex composite composed primarily of pure ice in various states of crystallization along with air bubbles and included pockets of brine. Understanding its growth processes is important both for climate scientists for use in simulations as well remote sensing specialists since the composition and microstructural properties of the ice ultimately affect how it interacts with electromagnetic radiation.
Sea ice growth models for predicting the ice distribution and extent are also valuable for shipping concerns. An ice growth model can be combined with remote sensing measurements in an assimilation model as a means of generating more accurate ice charts.
Several formation mechanisms of sea ice have been identified. At its earliest stages, sea ice consists of elongated, randomly oriented crystals. This is called frazil and mixed with water in the unconsolidated state is known as grease ice. If wave and wind conditions are calm, these crystals will consolidate at the surface and by selective pressure, begin to grow preferentially in the downward direction, forming nilas. In more turbulent conditions, the frazil will consolidate by mechanical action to form pancake ice, which has a more random structure Another common formation mechanism, especially in the Antarctic where precipitation over sea ice is high, is from snow deposition: on thin ice, the snow will weigh down the ice enough to cause flooding. Subsequent freezing will form ice with a much more granular structure.
One of the more interesting processes to occur within consolidated ice packs is changes in the saline content. As the ice freezes, most of the salt content gets rejected and forms highly saline brine inclusions between the crystals. With decreasing temperatures in the ice sheet, the size of the brine pockets decreases while the salt content goes up. Since ice is less dense than water, increasing pressure causes some of the brine to be ejected from both the top and bottom, producing the characteristic ‘C’-shaped salinity profile of first year ice. Brine will also drain through vertical channels, particularly in the melt season. Thus multi-year ice will tend to have both lower salinity and lower density than first-year ice
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