Spatial and temporal variability in the snowpack of a High Arctic ice cap: implications for mass-change measurements
Interpretation of ice mass elevation changes observed by satellite altimetry demands quantification of the proportion of elevation change which is attributable to variations in firn densification. Detailed stratigraphic logging of snowpack structure and density was carried out at similar to 1 km intervals along a 47 km transect on Devon Ice Cap, Canada, in spring (pre-melt) and autumn (during/after melt) 2004 and 2006 to characterize seasonal snowpack variability across the full range of snow facies. Simultaneous meteorological measurements were gathered. Spring (pre-melt) snowpacks show low variability over large spatial scales, with low-magnitude changes in density. The end-of-summer/autumn density profiles show high variability in both 2004 and 2006, with vastly different melt regimes generating dissimilar patterns of ice-layer formation over the two melt seasons. Dye-tracing experiments from spring to autumn 2006 reveal that vertical and horizontal distribution of meltwater flow within and below the annual snowpack is strongly affected by the pre-existing, often subtle stratigraphic interfaces in the snowpack, rather than its bulk properties. Strong interannual variability suggests that using a simple relationship between air temperature, elevation and snowpack densification to derive mass change from measurements of elevation change across High Arctic ice caps may be misguided. Melt timing and duration are important extrinsic factors governing snowpack densification and ice-layer formation in summer, rather than averaged air temperatures.