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Temperatures, heating rates and vapour pressures in near-surface snow at the South Pole

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A finite-volume model is used to simulate 9 years (1995–2003) of snow temperatures at the South Pole. The upper boundary condition is skin-surface temperature derived from routine upwelling longwave radiation measurements, while the lower boundary condition is set to the seasonal temperature gradient at 6.5 m depth, taken from prior measurements at the South Pole. We focus on statistics of temperature, heat fluxes, heating rates and vapour pressures in the top metre of snow, but present results from the full depth of the model (6.5 m). The monthly mean net heat flux into the snow agrees with results from previous studies performed at the South Pole. On shorter timescales, the heating rates and vapour pressures show large variability. The net heat flux into the snow, which is between ±5 Wm−2 in the monthly mean, can be greater than ±20 Wm−2 on hourly timescales. On sub-daily timescales, heating rates exceed 40 K d−1 in the top 10 cm of the snow. Subsurface temperatures, and therefore heating rates, are more variable during winter (April–September) due to increased synoptic activity and the presence of a strong, surface-based, atmospheric temperature inversion. The largest vapour pressures (60–70 Pa) and vertical gradients of vapour pressure are found in the top metre of snow during the short summer (December–January). In contrast, during the long winter, the low temperatures result in very small vapour pressures and insignificant vapour-pressure gradients. The high summertime vapour-pressure gradients may be important in altering the isotopic composition of snow and ice on the Antarctic plateau.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2008-07-01

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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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