Articles | Volume 12, issue 6
Research article
31 Mar 2015
Research article |  | 31 Mar 2015

Inorganic carbon dynamics of melt-pond-covered first-year sea ice in the Canadian Arctic

N.-X. Geilfus, R. J. Galley, O. Crabeck, T. Papakyriakou, J. Landy, J.-L. Tison, and S. Rysgaard

Abstract. Melt pond formation is a common feature of spring and summer Arctic sea ice, but the role and impact of sea ice melt and pond formation on both the direction and size of CO2 fluxes between air and sea is still unknown. Here we report on the CO2–carbonate chemistry of melting sea ice, melt ponds and the underlying seawater as well as CO2 fluxes at the surface of first-year landfast sea ice in the Resolute Passage, Nunavut, in June 2012.

Early in the melt season, the increase in ice temperature and the subsequent decrease in bulk ice salinity promote a strong decrease of the total alkalinity (TA), total dissolved inorganic carbon (TCO2) and partial pressure of CO2 (pCO2) within the bulk sea ice and the brine. As sea ice melt progresses, melt ponds form, mainly from melted snow, leading to a low in situ melt pond pCO2 (36 μatm). The percolation of this low salinity and low pCO2 meltwater into the sea ice matrix decreased the brine salinity, TA and TCO2, and lowered the in situ brine pCO2 (to 20 μatm). This initial low in situ pCO2 observed in brine and melt ponds results in air–ice CO2 fluxes ranging between −0.04 and −5.4 mmol m−2 day−1 (negative sign for fluxes from the atmosphere into the ocean). As melt ponds strive to reach pCO2 equilibrium with the atmosphere, their in situ pCO2 increases (up to 380 μatm) with time and the percolation of this relatively high concentration pCO2 meltwater increases the in situ brine pCO2 within the sea ice matrix as the melt season progresses. As the melt pond pCO2 increases, the uptake of atmospheric CO2 becomes less significant. However, since melt ponds are continuously supplied by meltwater, their in situ pCO2 remains undersaturated with respect to the atmosphere, promoting a continuous but moderate uptake of CO2 (~ −1 mmol m−2 day−1) into the ocean. Considering the Arctic seasonal sea ice extent during the melt period (90 days), we estimate an uptake of atmospheric CO2 of −10.4 Tg of C yr−1. This represents an additional uptake of CO2 associated with Arctic sea ice that needs to be further explored and considered in the estimation of the Arctic Ocean's overall CO2 budget.

Short summary
We investigated the evolution of inorganic carbon within landfast sea ice in Resolute Passage during the spring and summer melt period. Low TA and TCO2 concentrations observed in sea ice and brine were associated with the percolation of meltwater from melt ponds. Meltwater was continuously supplied to the ponds which prevented melt ponds from fully equilibrating with the atmospheric CO2 concentration, promoting a continuous uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Final-revised paper