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Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2020-311
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2020-311
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  28 Oct 2020

28 Oct 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Energetics of Surface Melt in West Antarctica

Madison L. Ghiz1, Ryan C. Scott2, Andrew M. Vogelmann3, Jan T. M. Lenaerts4, Matthew Lazzara5, and Dan Lubin1 Madison L. Ghiz et al.
  • 1Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla CA 92093-0206 USA
  • 2NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton VA 23666 USA
  • 3Environmental and Climate Sciences Department, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton NY 11973-5000 USA
  • 4Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder CO 80309-0311 USA
  • 5Antarctic Meteorological Research Center, SSEC, University of Wisconsin, Madison WI 53706 USA

Abstract. We use reanalysis data and satellite remote sensing of cloud properties to examine how meteorological conditions alter the surface energy balance to cause surface melt that is detectable in satellite passive microwave imagery over West Antarctica. This analysis can detect each of the three primary mechanisms for inducing surface melt at a specific location: thermal blanketing involving sensible heat flux and/or longwave heating by optically thick cloud cover, all-wave radiative enhancement by optically thin cloud cover, and föhn winds. We examine case studies over Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers, which are of interest for ice shelf and ice sheet stability, and over Siple Dome, which is more readily accessible for field work. During January 2015 over Siple Dome we identified a melt event whose origin is an all-wave radiative enhancement by optically thin clouds. During December 2011 over Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers, we identified a melt event caused mainly by thermal blanketing from optically thick clouds. Over Siple Dome, those same 2011 synoptic conditions yielded a thermal blanketing-driven melt event that was initiated by an impulse of sensible heat flux then prolonged by cloud longwave heating. In contrast, a late-summer thermal blanketing period over Pine Island and Thwaites Glaciers during February 2013 showed surface melt initiated by cloud longwave heating then prolonged by enhanced sensible heat flux. At a location on the Ross Ice Shelf adjacent to the Transantarctic mountains we identified a December 2011 föhn wind case with additional support from automatic weather station data. One limitation thus far with this type of analysis involves uncertainties in the cloud optical properties. Nevertheless, with improvements this type of analysis can enable quantitative prediction of atmospheric stress on the vulnerable Antarctic ice shelves in a steadily warming climate.

Madison L. Ghiz et al.

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Madison L. Ghiz et al.

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Short summary
We investigate how melt occurs over the vulnerable ice shelves of West Antarctica, and determine that the three primary mechanisms can be evaluated using archived numerical weather prediction model data and satellite imagery. We find examples of each mechanism: thermal blanketing by a warm atmosphere, radiative heating by thin clouds, and downslope winds. Our results signify the potential to make a multidecadal assessment of atmospheric stress on West Antarctic ice shelves in a warming climate.
We investigate how melt occurs over the vulnerable ice shelves of West Antarctica, and determine...
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