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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2018-239
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2018-239
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 12 Nov 2018

Research article | 12 Nov 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).

A key factor initiating surface ablation of Arctic sea ice: Earlier and increasing liquid precipitation

Tingfeng Dou1,2, Cunde Xiao3,2,4, Jiping Liu5, Wei Han6, Zhiheng Du2, Andrew R. Mahoney7, Joshua Jones8, and Hajo Eicken8 Tingfeng Dou et al.
  • 1College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • 2State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou 730000, China
  • 3State Key Laboratory of Earth Surface Processes and Resource Ecology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
  • 4Institute of Polar Meteorology, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, Beijing 100081, China
  • 5Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, University at Albany, State University of New York, Albany, NY, USA
  • 6Beijing Meteorological Observation Center, Beijing 102600, China
  • 7Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775-7320, USA
  • 8International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775-7340, USA

Abstract. Snow plays an important role in the Arctic climate system, modulating heat transfer in terrestrial and marine environments and controlling feedbacks. Changes in snow depth over Arctic sea ice, particularly in spring, have a strong impact on the surface energy budget, influencing ocean heat loss, ice growth and surface ponding. Snow conditions are sensitive to the phase (solid or liquid) of deposited precipitation. However, variability and potential trends of rain-on-snow events over Arctic sea ice and their role in sea-ice losses are poorly understood. Time series of surface observations at Utqiaġvik, Alaska reveal rapid reduction in snow depth linked to late-spring rain-on-snow events. Liquid precipitation is key in preconditioning and triggering snow ablation through reduction in surface albedo as well as latent heat release determined by rainfall amount, supported by field observations beginning in 2000 and model results. Rainfall was found to accelerate warming and ripening of the snow pack, with even small amounts (such as 0.3mm recorded on May 24, 2017) triggering the transition from the warming phase into the ripening phase. Subsequently, direct heat input drives snow melt, with water content of the snow pack increasing until meltwater output occurs, with an associated rapid decrease in snow depth. Rainfall during the ripening phase can further raise water content in the snow layer, prompting onset of the meltwater output phase in the snow pack. First spring rainfall in Utqiaġvik has been observed to shift to earlier dates since the 1970s, in particular after the mid-1990s. Early melt season rainfall and its fraction of total annual precipitation also exhibit an increasing trend. These changes of precipitation over sea ice may have profound impacts on ice melt through feedbacks involving earlier onset of surface melt.

Tingfeng Dou et al.
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Short summary
The variability and potential trends of rain-on-snow events over Arctic sea ice and their role in sea-ice losses are poorly understood. This study demonstrates that rain on snow events are a critical factor in initiating the onset of surface melt over Arctic sea ice, and onset of spring rainfall over sea ice has shifted to earlier dates since the 1970s, which may have profound impacts on ice melting through feedbacks involving earlier onset of surface melt.
The variability and potential trends of rain-on-snow events over Arctic sea ice and their role...
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