How does the ice sheet surface mass balance relate to snowfall? Insights from a ground-based precipitation radar in East Antarctica

Niels Souverijns, Alexandra Gossart, Irina V. Gorodetskaya, Stef Lhermitte, Alexander Mangold, Quentin Laffineur, Andy Delcloo, Nicole P.M. Van Lipzig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
22 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Local surface mass balance (SMB) measurements are crucial for understanding changes in the total mass of the Antarctic Ice Sheet, including its contribution to sea level rise. Despite continuous attempts to decipher mechanisms controlling the local and regional SMB, a clear understanding of the separate components is still lacking, while snowfall measurements are almost absent. In this study, the different terms of the SMB are quantified at the Princess Elisabeth (PE) station in Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica. Furthermore, the relationship between snowfall and accumulation at the surface is investigated. To achieve this, a unique collocated set of ground-based and in situ remote sensing instrumentation (Micro Rain Radar, ceilometer, automatic weather station, among others) was set up and operated for a time period of 37 months. Snowfall originates mainly from moist and warm air advected from lower latitudes associated with cyclone activity. However, snowfall events are not always associated with accumulation. During 38% of the observed snowfall cases, the freshly fallen snow is ablated by the wind during the course of the event. Generally, snow storms of longer duration and larger spatial extent have a higher chance of resulting in accumulation on a local scale, while shorter events usually result in ablation (on average 17 and 12h respectively). A large part of the accumulation at the station takes place when preceding snowfall events were occurring in synoptic upstream areas. This fresh snow is easily picked up and transported in shallow drifting snow layers over tens of kilometres, even when wind speeds are relatively low ( < 7ms-1). Ablation events are mainly related to katabatic winds originating from the Antarctic plateau and the mountain ranges in the south. These dry winds are able to remove snow and lead to a decrease in the local SMB. This work highlights that the local SMB is strongly influenced by synoptic upstream conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1987-2003
Number of pages17
JournalCryosphere
Volume12
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2018

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