On the definition of marginal ice zone width

Strong, C, Foster D, Cherkaev E, Eisenman I, Golden KM.  2017.  On the definition of marginal ice zone width. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology. 34:1565-1584.

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access, cover, decline, edge, engineering, Meteorology & Atmospheric Sciences, ocean, sea-ice, variability


Sea ice features a dense inner pack ice zone surrounded by a marginal ice zone (MIZ) in which the sea ice properties are modified by interaction with the ice-free open ocean. The width of the MIZ is a fundamental length scale for polar physical and biological dynamics. Several different criteria for establishing MIZ boundaries have emerged in the literature-wave penetration, floe size, sea ice concentration, etc.-and a variety of definitions for the width between the MIZ boundaries have been published. Here, three desirable mathematical properties for defining MIZ width are proposed: invariance with respect to translation and rotation on the sphere; uniqueness at every point in the MIZ; and generality, including nonconvex shapes. The previously published streamline definition is shown to satisfy all three properties, where width is defined as the arc length of a streamline through the solution to Laplaces's equation within the MIZ boundaries, while other published definitions each satisfy only one of the desired properties. When defining MIZ spatial average width from streamline results, the rationale for averaging with respect to distance along both MIZ boundaries was left implicit in prior studies. Here it is made rigorous by developing and applying the mathematics of an analytically tractable idealization of MIZ geometry-the eccentric annulus. Finally, satellite-retrieved Arctic sea ice concentrations are used to investigate how well streamline-based MIZ spatial average width is approximated by alternative definitions that lack desirable mathematical properties or local width values but offer computational efficiency.