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As the greater part of sea-ice area is covered with snow, the thermal regime of sea ice is characterized by the thermal behavior of snow-covered sea ice. In this paper the thermal regime of snow-covered sea ice is quantitatively investigated with a one-dimensional non-linear boundary model which contains: compaction of snow cover; internal absorption of solar radiation; evaporation–condensation within snow cover; equilibrium phase change of brine within sea ice; and vertical oceanic heat flux from seawater to ice. Penetration of air temperature oscillations into the snow-covered sea ice increases remarkably with increasing snow density. As internal melting within the snow-covered sea ice appears with increasing solar radiation, the rise in air temperature and increase of solar radiation in the springtime produce a corresponding change in the thermal state of sea ice, causing a drastic retreat of sea-ice cover. A case study for warm sea ice is presented describing the thermal state during the melting season.