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Characterization and formation of melt layers in polar snow: observations and experiments from West Antarctica

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Surface melting rarely occurs across most of the Antarctic ice sheet, away from the warmer coastal regions. Nonetheless, isolated melt features are preserved in the firn and ice in response to infrequent and short-lived melting events. An understanding of the formation and occurrence of these melt layers will help us to interpret records of past melt occurrences from polar ice cores such as the Siple Dome ice-core record from West Antarctica. A search in the near-surface firn in West Antarctica found that melt features are extremely rare, and consist of horizontal, laterally continuous, one to a few millimeter thick, ice layers with few air bubbles. The melt layers found date from the 1992/93 and 1991/92 summers. Field experiments to investigate changes in stratigraphy taking place during melt events reproduced melt features as seen in the natural stratigraphy. Melting conditions of varying intensity were created by passively heating the near-surface air for varying lengths of time inside a clear plastic hotbox. Melt layers formed due entirely to preferential flow and subsequent refreezing of meltwater from the surface into near-surface, fine-grained, crust layers. Continuous melt layers were formed experimentally when positive-degree-day values exceeded 1°C-day, a value corresponding well with air-temperature records from automatic weather station sites where melt layers formed in the recent past.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2005-03-01

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.

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