One of the most conspicuous phenomena in the Arctic Is the fracture of sea ice. It is scarcely possible to travel far without seeing a variety of fracture forms, produced both by natural processes and by human activity.
At strain-rates below about 10−4 s−1, deformation is dominated by creep, but at higher strain-rates fracture is much more important. One of the reasons for this is the very low fracture toughness of ice. The movements of ice in contact with offshore structures often induce strain-rates well beyond the level at which fracture begins, and so offshore structures will often operate in the fracture regime, and it is fracture processes which will determine the design loads. We consider the different modes of repeated fracture that will occur, and classify them into distinct mechanisms of crushing, spalling, and radial and circumferential cracking. Experimental and field observations are plotted on a deformation mode map. A theoretical treatment of radial cracking confirms that very low loads can propagate cracks to long distances; these loads are small by comparison with those calculated from theoretical models that treat ice as a plastically-deforming continuum.