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

  • Souverijns N
  • Gossart A
  • Gorodetskaya I
  • et al.
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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 SMB, a clear understanding of the separate components is still lacking, while snowfall measurements are almost absent. In this study, the different terms are quantified at the Princess Elisabeth (PE) station in Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica. Furthermore, the relation between snowfall and accumulation at the surface is investigated. To achieve this, a unique collocated set of remote sensing instrumentation (Micro Rain Radar, ceilometer, Automatic Weather Station, among others) was established operating for an unprecedented 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 much more common than accumulation events. During 38&amp;thinsp;% of the snowfall cases observed, the freshly-fallen snow is ablated by the wind during the course of the event. Generally, snow storms of longer duration have a higher chance to attain for accumulation at the local scale, while shorter events usually attain for ablation (on average 17 and 12 hours respectively). As such, SMB records cannot be considered a good proxy for snowfall at the local scale. Accumulation and ablation also occur during non-snowfall conditions. A large part of the accumulation at the station takes place when preceding snowfall events were occurring in upstream coastal areas. This fresh snow is easily picked up and transported in shallow drifting snow layers to more inland locations, even when wind speed is relatively low (<&amp;thinsp;7&amp;thinsp;m&amp;thinsp;s<sup>-1</sup>). 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, even though observations are local, the SMB is strongly influenced by synoptic upstream conditions.




Souverijns, N., Gossart, A., Gorodetskaya, I. V., Lhermitte, S., Mangold, A., Laffineur, Q., … van Lipzig, N. P. M. (2017). How does the ice sheet surface mass balance relate to snowfall? Insights from a ground-based precipitation radar in East Antarctica. The Cryosphere Discussions, 1–22.

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