Investigations of meltwater refreezing and density variations in the snowpack and firn within the percolation zone of the Greenland ice sheet

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Abstract:

The mass balance of polythermal ice masses is critically dependent on the proportion of surface-generated meltwater that subsequently refreezes in the snowpack and firn. In order to quantify this effect and to characterize its spatial variability, we measured near-surface (<10 m) snow and firn densities at an elevation of ∼1945 m a. s. l. in the percolation zone of the Greenland ice sheet in spring and autumn 2004. Results indicate that local snowpack depth above the previous end-of-summer 2003 melt surface increased by ∼5% (7.6 cm) from spring to autumn while, over the same period, snowpack density increased by >26%, resulting in a 32% increase in net accumulation. This 'seasonal densification' increased at lower elevations, rising to 47% 10 km closer to the ice-sheet margin at 1860 m a. s. l. Density/depth profiles from nine sites within 1 km2 at ∼1945 m a.s.l. reveal complex stratigraphies that change over short spatial scales and seasonally. We conclude that estimates of mass-balance change cannot be calculated solely from observed changes in surface elevation, but that near-surface densification must also be considered. However, predicting spatial and temporal variations in densification may not be straightforward. Further, the development of complex firn-density profiles both masks discernible annual layers in the near-surface firn and ice stratigraphy and is likely to introduce error into radar-derived estimates of surface elevation.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3189/172756407782871332

Publication date: October 1, 2007

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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