Ice Mass Balance (IMB) Buoy Program

Near real-time observations of the changing Arctic sea ice cover

Published Nov. 13, 2014

The Arctic sea ice cover plays a major role in governing the exchange of energy between the ocean and atmosphere in the polar region. Changes in the thickness and extent of the Arctic sea ice cover may be harbingers of climate change. Results of global climate change models indicate that there is still much to be learned about the details of the complex atmosphere-ice-ocean interaction. Key to improving this understanding is the collection of field measurements that will provide insights on fundamental sea ice thermodynamic processes. A basic element in studies focused on thermodynamics is the mass balance of the ice cover.

Ice Mass Balance

The ice mass balance (IMB) is the great thermodynamic integrator. If there is net warming over time, then there will be thinning of the ice. Conversely, net cooling leads to thicker ice. Coupled with ice temperature measurements, mass balance measurements provide valuable information on the heat exchange among the air, ice and ocean. The IMB observations enable research that explores what changes in ice thickness are taking place and how these changes occur, thereby improving the understanding of important role of the Arctic sea ice cover in the global climate.

Ice Mass Balance Buoys




Ice mass balance buoys installed to measure the ice mass balance of the Arctic sea ice cover; (left) the Ice Mass Balance Buoy, designed for multiyear sea ice, and (right) the Seasonal Ice Mass Balance Buoy (SIMB) developed in response to the recent dramatic shift to a younger, thinner ice cover. Buoy Components include an above ice acoustic sounder, under ice acoustic sounder, and a temperature string extending from the air, through the snow cover and sea ice, into the water with the temperature sensors located every 10 cm along the string. The buoys also include instruments to measure air temperature, barometric pressure and GPS position. A data acquisition system collects and transmits the data back to CRREL through the Iridium Satellite network.

Work with Us

Our capabilities and facilities are available to assist you in addressing and solving a variety of cold regions science and engineering challenges. 

Contact, 603 646 4116 
Updated 25 August 2020

Terrestrial & Cryospheric Sciences Branch (CEERD-RRG)
U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center | Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory

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