A Novel and Low-Cost Sea Ice Mass Balance Buoy

Keith Jackson*, Jeremy Wilkinson, Ted Maksym, David Meldrum, Justin Beckers, Christian Haas, David Mackenzie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Citations (Scopus)


The understanding of sea ice mass balance processes requires continuous monitoring of the seasonal evolution of the ice thickness. While autonomous ice mass balance (IMB) buoys deployed over the past two decades have contributed to scientists' understanding of ice growth and decay processes, deployment has been limited, in part, by the cost of such systems. Routine, basinwide monitoring of the ice cover is realistically achievable through a network of reliable and affordable autonomous instrumentation. This paper describes the development of a novel autonomous platform and sensor that replaces the traditional thermistor strings for monitoring temperature profiles in the ice and snow using a chain of inexpensive digital temperature chip sensors linked by a single-wire data bus. By incorporating a heating element into each sensor, the instrument is capable of resolving material interfaces (e.g., air-snow and ice-ocean boundaries) even under isothermal conditions. The instrument is small, low cost, and easy to deploy. Field and laboratory tests of the sensor chain demonstrate that the technology can reliably resolve material boundaries to within a few centimeters. The discrimination between different media based on sensor thermal response is weak in some deployments and efforts to optimize the performance continue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2676-2688
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of atmospheric and oceanic technology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


  • sea ice
  • buoy observations
  • in situ oceanic observations
  • instrumentation
  • sensors
  • thermal-conductivity
  • thickness
  • cover
  • Antarctica
  • winter
  • snow


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