Bistability in Radiatively Heated Melt Ponds

Rui Yang, Christopher J. Howland, Hao Ran Liu, Roberto Verzicco, Detlef Lohse*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Melting and solidification processes, intertwined with convective flows, play a fundamental role in geophysical contexts. One of these processes is the formation of melt ponds on glaciers, ice shelves, and sea ice. It is driven by solar radiation and is of great significance for Earth's heat balance, as it significantly lowers the albedo. Through direct numerical simulations and theoretical analysis, we unveil a bistability phenomenon in the melt pond dynamics. As solar radiation intensity and the melt pond's initial depth vary, an abrupt transition occurs: this tipping point transforms the system from a stable fully frozen state to another stable equilibrium state, characterized by a distinct melt pond depth. The physics of this transition can be understood within a heat flux balance model, which exhibits excellent agreement with our numerical results. Together with the Grossmann-Lohse theory for internally heated convection, the model correctly predicts the bulk temperature and the flow strength within the melt ponds, offering insight into the coupling of phase transitions with adjacent turbulent flows and the interplay between convective melting and radiation-driven processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number234002
Number of pages6
JournalPhysical review letters
Issue number23
Early online date7 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2023


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