Sixty-three ice cores were collected in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas in August and September 1993 during a cruise of the R.V. Nathaniel B. Palmer. The structure and stable-isotopic composition (18O/16O) of the cores were investigated in order to understand the growth conditions and to identify the key growth processes, particularly the contribution of snow to sea-ice formation. The structure and isotopic composition of a set of 12 cores that was collected for the same purpose in the Bellingshausen Sea in March 1992 are reassessed. Frazil ice and congelation ice contribute 44% and 26%, respectively, to the composition of both the winter and summer ice-core sets, evidence that the relatively calm conditions that favour congelation-ice formation are neither as common nor as prolonged as the more turbulent conditions that favour frazil-ice growth and pancake-ice formation. Both frazil- and congelation-ice layers have an av erage thickness of 0.12 m in winter, evidence that congelation ice and pancake ice thicken primarily by dynamic processes. The thermodynamic development of the ice cover relies heavily on the formation of snow ice at the surface of floes after sea water has flooded the snow cover. Snow-ice layers have a mean thickness of 0.20 and 0.28 m in the winter and summer cores, respectively, and the contribution of snow ice to the winter (24%) and summer (16%) core sets exceeds most quantities that have been reported previously in other Antarctic pack-ice zones. The thickness and quantity of snow ice may be due to a combination of high snow-accumulation rates and snow loads, environmental conditions that favour a warm ice cover in which brine convection between the bottom and top of the ice introduces sea water to the snow/ice interface, and bottom melting losses being compensated by snow-ice formation. Layers of superimposed ice at the top of each of the summer cores make up 4.6% of the ice that was examined and they increase by a factor of 3 the quantity of snow entrained in the ice. The accumulation of superimposed ice is evidence that melting in the snow cover on Antarctic sea-ice floes ran reach an advanced stage and contribute a significant amount of snow to the total ice mass.