09 Dec 2022
09 Dec 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Dynamics of the snow grain size in a windy coastal area of Antarctica from continuous in-situ spectral albedo measurements

Sara Arioli, Ghislain Picard, Laurent Arnaud, and Vincent Favier Sara Arioli et al.
  • Université Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, IRD, Grenoble INP, IGE, 38000 Grenoble, France

Abstract. The grain size of the superficial snow layer is a key determinant of the surface albedo in Antarctica. Its evolution is the result of multiple interacting processes, such as dry and wet metamorphism, melt, snow drift and precipitation. Among them, snow drift has the least known and least predictable impact. The goal of this study is to relate the variations of surface snow grain size to these processes in a windy location of the Antarctic coast. For this, we retrieved the daily grain size from 5 year-long in-situ observations of the spectral albedo recorded by a new multi-band albedometer, unique in terms of autonomy and described here for the first time. An uncertainty assessment and a comparison with satellite-retrieved grain size were carried out to verify the reliability of the instrument and an RMSE up to 0.16 mm on the observed grain size was found. By relating these in-situ measurements to timeseries of snow drift, surface temperature, snow surface height and snowfall, we established that the evolution of the grain size in the presence of snow drift is complex and follows two possible pathways: 1) A decrease in the grain size (about half of our measurements) resulting from the deposition of small grains advected by the wind. Surprisingly, this decreases is often (2/3 of the cases) associated with a decrease of the surface height, i.e. a net erosion over the drift episode, 2) an increase of the grain size (the other half) either due to the removal of the surface layer, or metamorphism. However, we note that this increase is often limited with respect to the increase predicted by a theoretical metamorphism model, suggesting that a concomitant deposition of small grains is likely. At last, we found that wind also completely impedes the deposition of snowfall during half of the observed precipitation events. When this happens, the grain size evolves as if precipitation was not occurring. As a result of all these processes, we conclude that the grain size in a windy area remains more stable than it would be in the absence of snow drift, hence limiting the variations of the albedo and of the radiative energy budget.

Sara Arioli et al.

Status: open (until 15 Feb 2023)

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Sara Arioli et al.

Sara Arioli et al.


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Short summary
To assess the drivers of the snow grain size evolution during snow drift, we exploit a five year timeseries of the snow grain size retrieved from spectral albedo observations made with a new, autonomous, multi-band radiometer, and compare it to observations of snow drift, snowfall and snowmelt at a windy location of coastal Antarctica. Our results highlight the complexity of the grain size evolution in the presence of snow drift and show an overall tendency of snow drift to limit its variations.