Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences

First Advisor

James A. Maslanik

Second Advisor

Baylor Fox-Kemper

Third Advisor

John J. Cassano


The role of snow cover in controlling Arctic Ocean sea ice thickness and extent is assessed with a series of models. Investigations with the stand alone Community Ice CodE (CICE) show, first, a reduction in snow depth triggers a decrease in ice volume and area, and, second, that the impact of increased snow is heavily dependent on ice and atmospheric conditions. Hindcast snow depths on the Arctic ice, simulated by the fully coupled Community Climate System Model (CCSM) are validated with 20th century in situ snow depth measurements. The snow depths in CCSM are found to be deeper than observed, likely due to excessive precipitation produced by the component atmosphere model. The sensitivity of the ice to the thermal barrier imposed by the biased snow depth is assessed. The removal of the thermodynamic impact of the exaggerated snow depth increases ice area and volume. The initial increases in ice due to enhanced conductive flux triggers feedback mechanisms with the atmosphere and ocean, reinforcing the increase in ice. Finally, the 21st century projections of decreased Arctic Ocean snow depth in CCSM are reported and diagnosed. The changes in snow are dominated by reduced accumulation due to the lack of autumn ice cover. Without this platform, much of the early snowfall is lost directly to the ocean. While this decrease in snow results in enhanced conductive flux through the ice as in the validation sensitivity experiment, the decreased summer albedo is found to dominate, as in the CICE stand alone sensitivity experiment. As such, the decrease in snow projected by CCSM in the 21st century presents a mechanism to continued ice loss. These negative (ice growth due decreased insulation) and positive (ice melt due to decreased albedo) feedback mechanisms highlight the need for an accurate representation snow cover on the ice in order to accurately simulate the evolution of Arctic Ocean sea ice.