The melt season of the Arctic sea ice cover is greatly affected by the partitioning of the incident solar radiation between reflection to the atmosphere and absorption in the ice and ocean. This partitioning exhibits a strong seasonal cycle and significant interannual variability. Data in the period 1998, 2000–2004 were analyzed in this study. Observations made during the 1997–1998 SHEBA (Surface HEat Budget of the Arctic Ocean) field experiment showed a strong seasonal dependence of the partitioning, dominated by a five-phase albedo evolution. QuikSCAT scatterometer data from the SHEBA region in 1999–2004 were used to further investigate solar partitioning in summer. The time series of scatterometer data were used to determine the onset of melt and the beginning of freezeup. This information was combined with SSM/I-derived ice concentration, TOVS-based estimates of incident solar irradiance, and SHEBA results to estimate the amount of solar energy absorbed in the ice-ocean system for these years. The average total solar energy absorbed in the ice-ocean system from April through September was 900 MJ m−2. There was considerable interannual variability, with a range of 826 to 1044 MJ m−2. The total amount of solar energy absorbed by the ice and ocean was strongly related to the date of melt onset, but only weakly related to the total duration of the melt season or the onset of freezeup. The timing of melt onset is significant because the incident solar energy is large and a change at this time propagates through the entire melt season, affecting the albedo every day throughout melt and freezeup.
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