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On the formation of blue ice on Byrd Glacier, Antarctica

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Blue-ice areas (BIAs) cover ∼1% of the East Antarctic ice sheet and are visual evidence of persistent ablation. In these regions, more snow is sublimated and/or eroded than is accumulated. The physical processes driving the formation of BIAs are poorly understood. Here we combine a firn-densification model with high-resolution (5.5 km) maps of surface mass balance and ice velocity to simulate the build-up and removal of a firn layer along an ice flowline passing Byrd Glacier. A BIA is formed once the complete firn layer is removed. Feedback processes, which enhance blue-ice formation through the difference in surface characteristics of snow and ice, are examined using sensitivity simulations. The presence of blue ice on Byrd Glacier is found to be mainly determined by (1) ice velocity, (2) surface mass balance and (3) the characteristics (thickness, mass) of the firn layer prior to entering the ablation area. With a moderate decrease of the surface mass balance, the location and extent of the simulated BIA on Byrd Glacier is found to be in good qualitative agreement with MODIS optical imagery.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2014-02-01

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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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