22 Jul 2021

22 Jul 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Snow dune growth increases polar heat fluxes

Kelly Kochanski1,2,3, Gregory Tucker1,2, and Robert Anderson1,3 Kelly Kochanski et al.
  • 1University of Colorado Boulder, Department of Geological Sciences
  • 2University of Colorado Boulder, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences
  • 3University of Colorado Boulder, Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research

Abstract. Falling snow often accumulates in dunes. These bedforms are found on up to 14 % of the surface of Earth, and appear occasionally on other planets. They have been associated with increased heat fluxes and rapid sea ice melting (Petrich et al., 2012; Popović et al., 2018). Their formation, however, is poorly understood (Filhol and Sturm, 2015; Kochanski et al., 2019a; Sharma et al., 2019). Here, we use field observations to show that dune growth is controlled by snowfall rate and wind speed. We then use numerical experiments to generate simulated dune topographies under varied wind and snowfall conditions, and use those to quantify conductive and radiative heat fluxes through snow. Our results show that dune growth leads to decreased snow cover, more variable snow depth, and significant increases in surface energy fluxes. We provide quantitative results that will allow modelers to account for the impact of snow bedforms in snow, sea ice, and climate simulations. In addition, this work offers a starting point for process-based studies of one of the most widespread bedforms on Earth.

Kelly Kochanski et al.

Status: open (until 16 Sep 2021)

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Kelly Kochanski et al.

Data sets

Time-lapse observations of snow bedforms in the Colorado Front Range, 2016-2017 Kelly Kochanski

Model code and software

Rescal-snow Kelly Kochanski

Kelly Kochanski et al.


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Short summary
Falling snow does not life flat. When blown by the wind, it forms elaborate structures, like dunes. Where these dunes form, they change the way heat flows through the snow. This can accelerate sea ice melt and climate change. Here, we use both field observations obtained during blizzards in Colorado and simulations performed with a state-of-the-art model, to quantify the impact of snow dunes on Arctic heat flows.