The modelled surface mass balance of the Antarctic Peninsula at 5.5 km horizontal resolution

This study presents a high-resolution (~ 5.5 km) estimate of Surface Mass Balance (SMB) over the period 1979–2014 for the Antarctic Peninsula (AP), generated by the regional atmospheric climate model RACMO2.3 and a Firn Densification Model (FDM). RACMO2.3 is used to force the FDM, which calculates processes in the snowpack, such as meltwater percolation, refreezing and runoff. We evaluate model output with 132 in-situ SMB observations and discharge rates from 6 glacier drainage basins, and find that the model realistically simulates the strong spatial variability in precipitation, but that significant biases remain as a result of the highly complex topography of the AP. It is also clear that the observations significantly underrepresent the high-accumulation regimes. The SMB map reveals large accumulation gradients, with precipitation values above 3000 mm we yr−1 over the western AP (WAP) and below 500 mm we yr−1 on the eastern AP (EAP), not resolved by coarser data-sets such as ERA-Interim. The other SMB components are one order of magnitude smaller, with drifting snow sublimation the largest ablation term removing up to 100 mm we yr−1 of mass. Snowmelt is widespread over the AP, reaching 500 mm we yr−1 towards the northern ice shelves, but the meltwater mostly refreezes. As a result runoff fluxes are low, but still considerable (200 mm we yr−1) over the Larsen (B/C), Wilkins and George VI ice shelves. The average AP ice sheet integrated SMB, including ice shelves (an area of 4.1 × 105 km2), is estimated at 351 Gt yr−1 with an interannual variability of 58 Gt yr−1, which is dominated by precipitation (PR) (365 ± 57 Gt yr−1). The WAP (2.4 × 105 km2) SMB (276 ± 47 Gt yr−1), where PR is large (276 ± 47 Gt yr−1), dominates over the EAP (1.7 × 105 km2) SMB (75 ± 11 Gt yr−1) and PR (84 ± 11 Gt yr−1). Total sublimation is 11 ± 2 Gt yr−1 and meltwater runoff into the ocean is 4 ± 4 Gt yr−1. There are no significant trends in any of the AP SMB components, except for snowmelt that shows a significant decrease over the last 36 years (−0.36 Gt yr−2).


Publication status:
Authors: van Wessem, J. M., Ligtenberg, S. R. M., Reijmer, C. H., van de Berg, W. J., van den Broeke, M. R., Barrand, N. E., Thomas, E. R. ORCIDORCID record for E. R. Thomas, Turner, John ORCIDORCID record for John Turner, Wuite, J., Scambos, T. A., van Meijgaard, E.

On this site: John Turner, Liz Thomas
1 January, 2016
The Cryosphere / 10
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