Drift of pancake ice floes in the winter Antarctic marginal ice zone during polar cyclones

Alberto Alberello, Luke Bennetts, Petra Heil, Clare Eayrs, Marcello Vichi, Keith MacHutchon, Miguel Onorato, Alessandro Toffoli

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High temporal resolution in situ measurements of pancake ice drift are presented, from a pair of buoys deployed on floes in the Antarctic marginal ice zone during the winter sea ice expansion, over 9 days in which the region was impacted by four polar cyclones. Concomitant measurements of wave-in-ice activity from the buoys are used to infer that the ice remained unconsolidated, and pancake ice conditions were maintained over at least the first 7 days. Analysis of the data shows (i) the fastest reported ice drift speeds in the Southern Ocean; (ii) high correlation of drift velocities with the surface wind velocities, indicating absence of internal ice stresses >100 km from the ice edge where remotely sensed ice concentration is 100%; and (iii) presence of a strong inertial signature with a 13 hr period. A Lagrangian free drift model is developed, including a term for geostrophic currents that reproduce the 13 hr period signature in the ice motion. The calibrated model provides accurate predictions of the ice drift for up to 2 days, and the calibrated parameters provide estimates of wind and ocean drag for pancake floes under storm conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2019JC015418
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number3
Early online date12 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Antarctic
  • buoy
  • drift
  • marginal ice zone
  • pancake ice
  • sea ice

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