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

By Victoria Parry, Peter Nienow, Douglas Mair, Julian Scott, Bryn Hubbard, Konrad Steffen and Duncan Wingham


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

Topics: Glaciology
Publisher: International Glaciological Society
Year: 2007
DOI identifier: 10.3189/172756407782871332
OAI identifier:
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