Math and sea ice

2009-04-18

in Science, The environment

Over at Eureka Science News, there is an interesting post about mathematical insights into sea ice dynamics. It describes work done in the mid-nineties by mathematician Ken Golden, who realized that sea ice shares certain mathematical characteristics with the powders used to make stealth materials for military vehicles:

His model captured one of the key features of sea ice: When the volume of brine is under about 5 percent, the sea ice is impermeable to fluid flow. But when the brine volume passes that critical 5-percent threshold, the sea ice suddenly becomes permeable to fluid flow. This 5-percent threshold corresponds to a critical temperature of -5 degrees Celsius for a typical bulk salinity of 5 parts per thousand. At first Golden did not quite realize what a breakthrough this work represented. “It was just a cool observation, with the comparison to stealthy materials,” he remarked. “I didn’t realize how important it was at the time.” But today, polar scientists routinely refer to the “rule of fives” that emerged from Golden’s work.

Hopefully, such work will eventually help us reach a much higher level of understanding of icesheet dynamics and the relationships between climate change, ice, and the oceans.

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