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Volume 12, issue 6 | Copyright
The Cryosphere, 12, 1987-2003, 2018
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-12-1987-2018
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 12 Jun 2018

Research article | 12 Jun 2018

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

Niels Souverijns1, Alexandra Gossart1, Irina V. Gorodetskaya2, Stef Lhermitte3, Alexander Mangold4, Quentin Laffineur4, Andy Delcloo4, and Nicole P. M. van Lipzig1 Niels Souverijns et al.
  • 1Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  • 2CESAM – Centre for Environmental and Marine Studies, Department of Physics, University of Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal
  • 3Department of Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands
  • 4Observations Department, Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium, Uccle, Belgium

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.

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This work is the first to gain insight into the local surface mass balance over Antarctica using accurate long-term snowfall observations. A non-linear relationship between accumulation and snowfall is discovered, indicating that total surface mass balance measurements are not a good proxy for snowfall over Antarctica. Furthermore, the meteorological drivers causing changes in the local SMB are identified.
This work is the first to gain insight into the local surface mass balance over Antarctica using...
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