Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
The Cryosphere, 9, 285–304, 2015
The Cryosphere, 9, 285–304, 2015

Research article 11 Feb 2015

Research article | 11 Feb 2015

Cloud and precipitation properties from ground-based remote-sensing instruments in East Antarctica

I. V. Gorodetskaya1, S. Kneifel2,3, M. Maahn2, K. Van Tricht1, W. Thiery1, J. H. Schween2, A. Mangold4, S. Crewell2, and N. P. M. Van Lipzig1 I. V. Gorodetskaya et al.
  • 1Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, KU Leuven – University of Leuven, Heverlee, Belgium
  • 2Institute for Geophysics and Meteorology, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany
  • 3Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
  • 4Observations Department, Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium, Uccle, Belgium

Abstract. A new comprehensive cloud–precipitation–meteorological observatory has been established at Princess Elisabeth base, located in the escarpment zone of Dronning Maud Land (DML), East Antarctica. The observatory consists of a set of ground-based remote-sensing instruments (ceilometer, infrared pyrometer and vertically profiling precipitation radar) combined with automatic weather station measurements of near-surface meteorology, radiative fluxes, and snow height. In this paper, the observatory is presented and the potential for studying the evolution of clouds and precipitating systems is illustrated by case studies. It is shown that the synergetic use of the set of instruments allows for distinguishing ice, liquid-containing clouds and precipitating clouds, including some information on their vertical extent. In addition, wind-driven blowing snow events can be distinguished from deeper precipitating systems. Cloud properties largely affect the surface radiative fluxes, with liquid-containing clouds dominating the radiative impact. A statistical analysis of all measurements (in total 14 months mainly during summer–beginning of winter) indicates that these liquid-containing clouds occur during as much as 20% of the cloudy periods. The cloud occurrence shows a strong bimodal distribution with clear-sky conditions 51% of the time and complete overcast conditions 35% of the time. Snowfall occurred during 17% of the cloudy periods with a predominance of light precipitation and only rare events with snowfall >1 mm h−1 water equivalent (w.e.). Three of such intense snowfall events occurred during 2011 contributing to anomalously large annual surface mass balance (SMB). Large accumulation events (>10 mm w.e. day−1) during the radar-measurement period of 26 months were always associated with snowfall, but at the same time other snowfall events did not always lead to accumulation. The multiyear deployment of a precipitation radar in Antarctica allows for assessing the contribution of the snowfall to the local SMB and comparing it to the other SMB components. During 2012, snowfall rate was 110 ± 20 mm w.e. yr−1, from which surface and drifting snow sublimation removed together 23%. Given the measured yearly SMB of 52 ± 3 mm w.e., the residual term of 33 ± 21 mm w.e. yr−1 was attributed to the wind-driven snow erosion. In general, this promising set of robust instrumentation allows for improved insight into cloud and precipitation processes in Antarctica and can be easily deployed at other Antarctic stations.

Short summary
Our paper presents a new cloud-precipitation-meteorological observatory established in the escarpment zone of Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica. The site is characterised by bimodal cloud occurrence (clear sky or overcast) with liquid-containing clouds occurring 20% of the cloudy periods. Local surface mass balance strongly depends on rare intense snowfall events. A substantial part of the accumulated snow is removed by surface and drifting snow sublimation and wind-driven snow erosion.