Articles | Volume 6, issue 4
The Cryosphere, 6, 841–857, 2012
The Cryosphere, 6, 841–857, 2012

Research article 09 Aug 2012

Research article | 09 Aug 2012

Surface and snowdrift sublimation at Princess Elisabeth station, East Antarctica

W. Thiery1, I. V. Gorodetskaya1, R. Bintanja2, N. P. M. Van Lipzig1, M. R. Van den Broeke3, C. H. Reijmer3, and P. Kuipers Munneke3 W. Thiery et al.
  • 1Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
  • 2KNMI (Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute), De Bilt, The Netherlands
  • 3Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Abstract. In the near-coastal regions of Antarctica, a significant fraction of the snow precipitating onto the surface is removed again through sublimation – either directly from the surface or from drifting snow particles. Meteorological observations from an Automatic Weather Station (AWS) near the Belgian research station Princess Elisabeth in Dronning Maud Land, East-Antarctica, are used to study surface and snowdrift sublimation and to assess their impacts on both the surface mass balance and the surface energy balance during 2009 and 2010. Comparison to three other AWSs in Dronning Maud Land with 11 to 13 yr of observations shows that sublimation has a significant influence on the surface mass balance at katabatic locations by removing 10–23% of their total precipitation, but at the same time reveals anomalously low surface and snowdrift sublimation rates at Princess Elisabeth (17 mm w.e. yr−1 compared to 42 mm w.e. yr−1 at Svea Cross and 52 mm w.e. yr−1 at Wasa/Aboa). This anomaly is attributed to local topography, which shields the station from strong katabatic influence, and, therefore, on the one hand allows for a strong surface inversion to persist throughout most of the year and on the other hand causes a lower probability of occurrence of intermediately strong winds. This wind speed class turns out to contribute most to the total snowdrift sublimation mass flux, given its ability to lift a high number of particles while still allowing for considerable undersaturation.