A series of observations were made on melting first year, landfast Arctic sea ice near Barrow, Alaska to explore the seasonal evolution of melt pond coverage. Observations of pond coverage, albedo, and ice properties are combined with terrestrial lidar measurements of surface topography and meltwater balance to quantitatively identify the timing and role of mechanisms driving pond coverage. The formation of interposed fresh ice is found to eliminate meltwater percolation through early pond formation and allow widespread ponding well above sea level. Pond drainage to sea level occurs principally by horizontal meltwater transport over the ice surface to macroscopic flaws. Freeboard loss, caused by buoyancy decline as the ice thins, controls pond growth late in the melt season after percolation begins. The majority of the macroscopic flaws that drain melt ponds to sea level are observed to develop from brine drainage channels within the ice. A simple thermodynamic model of meltwater percolation illustrates that fresh meltwater inflow causes pores in the ice to either shrink and freeze shut or enlarge based on initial size and ice temperature. This threshold behavior of pore diameter controls both the blockage of smaller pores with interposed ice and the enlargement of larger brine drainage channels to allow meltwater drainage. The results identify links between the temporal evolution of pond coverage and ice temperature, salinity, and thickness, providing new opportunities to realistically parameterize ponds and summer ice albedo within sea ice models.