Influence of persistent wind scour on the surface mass balance of Antarctica

  • Nature Geoscience volume 6, pages 367371 (2013)
  • doi:10.1038/ngeo1766
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Accurate quantification of surface snow accumulation over Antarctica is a key constraint for estimates of the Antarctic mass balance, as well as climatic interpretations of ice-core records1,2. Over Antarctica, near-surface winds accelerate down relatively steep surface slopes, eroding and sublimating the snow. This wind scour results in numerous localized regions (≤200 km2) with reduced surface accumulation3,4,5,6,7. Estimates of Antarctic surface mass balance rely on sparse point measurements or coarse atmospheric models that do not capture these local processes, and overestimate the net mass input in wind-scour zones3. Here we combine airborne radar observations of unconformable stratigraphic layers with lidar-derived surface roughness measurements to identify extensive wind-scour zones over Dome A, in the interior of East Antarctica. The scour zones are persistent because they are controlled by bedrock topography. On the basis of our Dome A observations, we develop an empirical model to predict wind-scour zones across the Antarctic continent and find that these zones are predominantly located in East Antarctica. We estimate that 2.7–6.6% of the surface area of Antarctica has persistent negative net accumulation due to wind scour, which suggests that, across the continent, the snow mass input is overestimated by 11–36.5 Gt yr−1 in present surface-mass-balance calculations.

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This work was supported by AGAP-NSF 0632292 (R.E.B., T.T.C., I.D., M.W.), RL-NSF 0636883 (R.E.B., I.D.), IceBridge-NASA NNNX11AC22G (R.E.B.), NSF-OPP 0538103 (T.A.S.) and NASA-NNX10AL42G (T.A.S.). We thank R. Hock, C. Shuman and R. Buck for early reviews of the paper. S. Arcone is acknowledged for helpful discussions. T. Haran, A. Block and H. Abdi are acknowledged for their help in data processing and GIS (geographic information system) support.

Author information


  1. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, Palisades, New York 10964-8000, USA

    • Indrani Das
    • , Robin E. Bell
    • , Michael Wolovick
    • , Timothy T. Creyts
    •  & Nicholas Frearson
  2. National Snow and Ice Data Center, CIRES, University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA

    • Ted A. Scambos
  3. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA

    • Michael Studinger
  4. Polar Meteorology Group, Byrd Polar Research Center, and Atmospheric Sciences Program, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA

    • Julien P. Nicolas
  5. Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht, Utrecht University, Princetonplein 5, 3584 CC Utrecht, The Netherlands

    • Jan T. M. Lenaerts
    •  & Michiel R. van den Broeke


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I.D. processed and analysed the lidar data set, interpreted the radar data set, developed the prediction model and wrote the paper. R.E.B. oversaw the field campaign, interpreted the radar data and developed the paper. T.A.S. analysed the atmospheric parameters, provided wind-glaze data and assisted in developing the methodology and the paper. M.W. processed and analysed the radar data set and contributed to velocity modelling. T.T.C. interpreted the radar data set, assisted in methodology and developed the paper. M.S. developed the lidar system, processing software and contributed to lidar data processing. N.F. developed the radars and contributed to the processing techniques. J.P.N. helped with interpreting the atmospheric parameters and developed the paper. J.T.M.L. and M.R.v.d.B. provided the RACMO2 and blue ice data set and assisted in interpreting the results. All authors commented on the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Indrani Das.

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