Submitted as: development and technical paper
29 Mar 2022
Submitted as: development and technical paper | 29 Mar 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal GMD.

A wind-driven snow redistribution module for Alpine3D v3.3.0: Adaptations designed for downscaling ice sheet surface mass balance

Eric Keenan1, Nander Wever1, Jan T. M. Lenaerts1, and Brooke Medley2 Eric Keenan et al.
  • 1Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA
  • 2Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA

Abstract. Ice sheets gain mass via snow accumulation at the ice sheet surface, which is the primary component of surface mass balance. On the Antarctic ice sheet, winds redistribute snow resulting in surface mass balance that is variable in both space and time. Representing wind-driven snow redistribution processes in models is critical for local assessments of surface mass balance, repeat altimetry studies, and interpretation of ice core accumulation records. To this end, we have adapted Alpine3D, an existing distributed snow modeling framework, to downscale Antarctic surface mass balance to horizontal resolutions up to 1 km. In particular, we have introduced a new two-dimensional advection-based wind-driven snow redistribution module that is driven by an offline coupling between WindNinja, a wind downscaling model, and Alpine3D. We then show that large accumulation variability can be at least partially explained by terrain-induced wind speed variations which subsequently redistribute snow around rolling topography. By comparing Alpine3D to airborne-derived snow accumulation measurements within a testing domain over Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica, we demonstrate that our Alpine3D downscaling approach improves surface mass balance estimates when compared to MERRA-2, a global atmospheric reanalysis which we use as atmospheric forcing. In particular, when compared to MERRA-2, Alpine3D reduces simulated surface mass balance root mean squared error by 23.4 mm w.e. yr-1 (13 %) and increases variance explained by 24 %. Despite these improvements, Alpine3D still underestimates observed accumulation variability, thus providing an opportunity for future model improvement.

Eric Keenan et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on gmd-2022-28', Anonymous Referee #1, 10 May 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on gmd-2022-28', Charles Amory, 16 May 2022

Eric Keenan et al.

Model code and software

MeteoIO, SNOWPACK, and Alpine3D model source code SNOWPACK team

Eric Keenan et al.


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Short summary
Ice sheets gain mass via snowfall. However, snowfall is redistributed by the wind, resulting in accumulation differences of up to a factor of 5 over distances as short as 5 kilometers. These differences complicate estimates of ice sheet contribution to sea level rise. For this reason, we have developed a new model for estimating wind-driven snow redistribution on ice sheets. We show that over Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica, the model improves estimates of snow accumulation variability.