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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 14 Jan 2019

Research article | 14 Jan 2019

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

Observation of the process of snow accumulation on the Antarctic Plateau by time lapse laserscanning

Ghislain Picard1, Laurent Arnaud1, Romain Caneil1,a, Eric Lefebvre1, and Maxim Lamare1 Ghislain Picard et al.
  • 1UGA, CNRS, Institut des Géosciences de l’Environnement (IGE), UMR 5001, Grenoble, 38041, France
  • anow at: Department of Marine Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

Abstract. Snow accumulation is the main positive component of the mass balance in Antarctica. In contrast to the major efforts deployed to estimate its overall value on a continental scale – to assess the contribution of the ice-sheet to sea-level rise – knowledge about the accumulation process itself is relatively poor, although many complex phenomena occur between snowfall and the definitive settling of the snow particles on the snowpack. Here we exploit a dataset of near-daily surface elevation maps recorded over three years at Dome C using an automatic laserscanner sampling 40–100 m2 in area. We find that the averaged accumulation is relatively regular over the three years at a rate of +8.7 cm yr−1. Despite this overall regularity, the surface changes very frequently (every 3 days on average) due to snow erosion and heterogeneous snow deposition that we call accumulation by patch. Most of these patches (60–85 %) are ephemeral but can survive a few weeks before being eroded. As a result, the surface is continuously rough (6–8 cm root mean square height) featuring meter-scale dunes aligned along the wind and larger, decameter-scale undulations. Additionally, we deduce the age of the snow present at a given time on the surface from elevation timeseries and find that snow age spans over more than a year. Some of the patches ultimately settle, leading to an heterogeneous internal structure which reflects the surface heterogeneity, with many snowfall events missing at a given point, whilst many others are over represented. These findings have important consequences for several research topics including surface mass balance, surface energy budget, photochemistry, snowpack evolution and the interpretation of the signals archived in ice cores.

Ghislain Picard et al.
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Ghislain Picard et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
To study how snow accumulates in Antarctica, we use daily surface elevation recorded by an automatic laserscanner. We show that new snow often accumulates in thick patches covering a small fraction of the surface. Most patches are removed by erosion within weeks, implying that only a few contribute to the snowpack. The result is a great heterogeneity on the surface and in the snowpack. These findings are important for surface mass and energy balance, photochemistry and ice core interpretation.
To study how snow accumulates in Antarctica, we use daily surface elevation recorded by an...