Articles | Volume 6, issue 4
Research article
15 Aug 2012
Research article |  | 15 Aug 2012

Drifting snow climate of the Greenland ice sheet: a study with a regional climate model

J. T. M. Lenaerts, M. R. van den Broeke, J. H. van Angelen, E. van Meijgaard, and S. J. Déry

Abstract. This paper presents the drifting snow climate of the Greenland ice sheet, using output from a high-resolution (∼11 km) regional climate model. Because reliable direct observations of drifting snow do not exist, we evaluate the modeled near-surface climate instead, using automatic weather station (AWS) observations from the K-transect and find that RACMO2 realistically simulates near-surface wind speed and relative humidity, two variables that are important for drifting snow. Integrated over the ice sheet, drifting snow sublimation (SUds) equals 24 ± 3 Gt yr−1, and is significantly larger than surface sublimation (SUs, 16 ± 2 Gt yr−1). SUds strongly varies between seasons, and is only important in winter, when surface sublimation and runoff are small. A rapid transition exists between the winter season, when snowfall and SUds are important, and the summer season, when snowmelt is significant, which increases surface snow density and thereby limits drifting snow processes. Drifting snow erosion (ERds) is only important on a regional scale. In recent decades, following decreasing wind speed and rising near-surface temperatures, SUds exhibits a negative trend (0.1 ± 0.1 Gt yr−1), which is compensated by an increase in SUs of similar magnitude.