Articles | Volume 11, issue 6
The Cryosphere, 11, 2755–2772, 2017
The Cryosphere, 11, 2755–2772, 2017

Research article 05 Dec 2017

Research article | 05 Dec 2017

Blowing snow detection from ground-based ceilometers: application to East Antarctica

Alexandra Gossart1, Niels Souverijns1, Irina V. Gorodetskaya2,1, Stef Lhermitte3,1, Jan T. M. Lenaerts4,1,5, Jan H. Schween6, Alexander Mangold7, Quentin Laffineur7, and Nicole P. M. van Lipzig1 Alexandra Gossart et al.
  • 1Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  • 2Center for Environmental and Marine Sciences, Department of Physics, University of Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal
  • 3Department of Geosciences and Remote Sensing, Delft University of Technology, Delft, the Netherlands
  • 4Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 5Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder CO, USA
  • 6Institute of Geophysics and Meteorology, Cologne University, Cologne, Germany
  • 7Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium, Brussels, Belgium

Abstract. Blowing snow impacts Antarctic ice sheet surface mass balance by snow redistribution and sublimation. However, numerical models poorly represent blowing snow processes, while direct observations are limited in space and time. Satellite retrieval of blowing snow is hindered by clouds and only the strongest events are considered. Here, we develop a blowing snow detection (BSD) algorithm for ground-based remote-sensing ceilometers in polar regions and apply it to ceilometers at Neumayer III and Princess Elisabeth (PE) stations, East Antarctica. The algorithm is able to detect (heavy) blowing snow layers reaching 30 m height. Results show that 78 % of the detected events are in agreement with visual observations at Neumayer III station. The BSD algorithm detects heavy blowing snow 36 % of the time at Neumayer (2011–2015) and 13 % at PE station (2010–2016). Blowing snow occurrence peaks during the austral winter and shows around 5 % interannual variability. The BSD algorithm is capable of detecting blowing snow both lifted from the ground and occurring during precipitation, which is an added value since results indicate that 92 % of the blowing snow is during synoptic events, often combined with precipitation. Analysis of atmospheric meteorological variables shows that blowing snow occurrence strongly depends on fresh snow availability in addition to wind speed. This finding challenges the commonly used parametrizations, where the threshold for snow particles to be lifted is a function of wind speed only. Blowing snow occurs predominantly during storms and overcast conditions, shortly after precipitation events, and can reach up to 1300 m a. g. l.  in the case of heavy mixed events (precipitation and blowing snow together). These results suggest that synoptic conditions play an important role in generating blowing snow events and that fresh snow availability should be considered in determining the blowing snow onset.

Short summary
Blowing snow plays an important role on local surface mass balance of Antarctica. We present here the blowing snow detection algorithm, to retrieve blowing snow occurrence from the attenuated backscatter signal of ceilometers set up at two station. There is a good correspondence in detection of heavy blowing snow by the algorithm and the visual observations performed at Neumayer station. Moreover, most of the blowing snow occurs during events bringing precipitation from the coast inland.