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Journal Articles Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences (1934–1990) Year : 2017

Linking scales in sea ice mechanics


Mechanics plays a key role in the evolution of the sea ice cover through its control on drift, on momentum and thermal energy exchanges between the polar oceans and the atmosphere along cracks and faults, and on ice thickness distribution through opening and ridging processes. At the local scale, a significant variability of the mechanical strength is associated with the microstructural heterogeneity of saline ice, however characterized by a small correlation length, below the ice thickness scale. Conversely, the sea ice mechanical fields (velocity, strain and stress) are characterized by long-ranged (more than 1000 km) and long-lasting (approx. few months) correlations. The associated space and time scaling laws are the signature of the brittle character of sea ice mechanics, with deformation resulting from a multi-scale accumulation of episodic fracturing and faulting events. To translate the short-range-correlated disorder on strength into long-range-correlated mechanical fields, several key ingredients are identified: long-ranged elastic interactions, slow driving conditions, a slow viscous-like relaxation of elastic stresses and a restoring/healing mechanism. These ingredients constrained the development of a new continuum mechanics modelling framework for the sea ice cover, called Maxwell-elasto-brittle. Idealized simulations without advection demonstrate that this rheological framework reproduces the main characteristics of sea ice mechanics, including anisotropy, spatial localization and intermittency, as well as the associated scaling laws.

This article is part of the themed issue 'Microdynamics of ice'.

Dates and versions

insu-03596083 , version 1 (03-03-2022)



Jérôme Weiss, Véronique Dansereau. Linking scales in sea ice mechanics. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences (1934–1990), 2017, 375, pp. 321-339. ⟨10.1098/rsta.2015.0352⟩. ⟨insu-03596083⟩
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