Multi-Decadal variability of polynya characteristics and ice production in the north water polynya by means of passive microwave and thermal infrared satellite imagery

Andreas Preußer, Günther Heinemann, Sascha Willmes, Stephan Paul

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28 Scopus citations


The North Water (NOW) Polynya is a regularly-forming area of open-water and thin-ice, located between northwestern Greenland and Ellesmere Island (Canada) at the northern tip of Baffin Bay. Due to its large spatial extent, it is of high importance for a variety of physical and biological processes, especially in wintertime. Here, we present a long-term remote sensing study for the winter seasons 1978/1979 to 2014/2015. Polynya characteristics are inferred from (1) sea ice concentrations and brightness temperatures from passive microwave satellite sensors (Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E and AMSR2), Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR), Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSM/I-SSMIS)) and (2) thin-ice thickness distributions, which are calculated using MODIS ice-surface temperatures and European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) atmospheric reanalysis data in a 1D thermodynamic energy-balance model. Daily ice production rates are retrieved for each winter season from 2002/2003 to 2014/2015, assuming that all heat loss at the ice surface is balanced by ice growth. Two different cloud-cover correction schemes are applied on daily polynya area and ice production values to account for cloud gaps in the MODIS composites. Our results indicate that the NOW polynya experienced significant seasonal changes over the last three decades considering the overall frequency of polynya occurrences, as well as their spatial extent. In the 1980s, there were prolonged periods of a more or less closed ice cover in northern Baffin Bay in winter. This changed towards an average opening on more than 85% of the days between November and March during the last decade. Noticeably, the sea ice cover in the NOW polynya region shows signs of a later-appearing fall freeze-up, starting in the late 1990s. Different methods to obtain daily polynya area using passive microwave AMSR-E/AMSR2 data and SSM/I-SSMIS data were applied. A comparison with MODIS data (thin-ice thickness ≤ 20 cm) shows that the wintertime polynya area estimates derived by MODIS are about 30 to 40% higher than those derived using the polynya signature simulation method (PSSM) with AMSR-E data. In turn, the difference in polynya area between PSSM and a sea ice concentration (SIC) threshold of 70% is fairly low (approximately 10%) when applied to AMSR-E data. For the coarse-resolution SSM/I-SSMIS data, this difference is much larger, particularly in November and December. Instead of a sea ice concentration threshold, the PSSM method should be used for SSM/I-SSMIS data. Depending on the type of cloud-cover correction, the calculated ice production based on MODIS data reaches an average value of 264.4 ± 65.1 km3 to 275.7 ± 67.4 km3 (2002/2003 to 2014/2015) and shows a high interannual variability. Our achieved long-term results underline the major importance of the NOW polynya considering its influence on Arctic ice production and associated atmosphere/ocean processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15844-15867
Number of pages24
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Baffin bay
  • Ice bridge
  • Nares strait
  • Passive microwave
  • Polynya
  • Sea ice


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