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On the formation of blue ice on Byrd Glacier, Antarctica

By S.R.M. Ligtenberg, J.T.M. Lenaerts, M.R. van den Broeke and T. Scambos


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 firndensification 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

Year: 2014
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