Modelling the influence of snow accumulation and snow-ice formation on the seasonal cycle of the Antarctic sea-ice cover
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Recent observational and numerical studies of the maritime snow cover in the Antarctic suggest that snow on top of sea ice plays a major role in shaping the seasonal growth and decay of the ice pack in the Southern Ocean. Here, we make a quantitative assessment of the importance of snow accumulation in controlling the seasonal cycle of the ice cover with a coupled snow–sea-ice–upper-ocean model. The model takes into account snow and ice sublimation and snow deposition by condensation. A parametrisation of the formation of snow ice (ice resulting from the freezing of a mixture of snow and seawater produced by flooding of the ice floes) is also included. Experiments on the sensitivity of the snow–sea-ice system to variations in the sublimation/condensation rate, the precipitation rate, and the amount of snowfall transported by the wind into leads are discussed. Although we focus on the model response in the Southern Hemisphere, results for the Arctic are also discussed in some cases to highlight the relative importance of the processes under study in both hemispheres. It is found that the snow loss by sublimation can account for the removal of 0.45 m of snow per year in the Antarctic and that this loss significantly affects the total volume of snow ice. A precipitation decrease of 50% is conducive to large reductions in the Antarctic snow and snow-ice volumes, but it leads only to an 8% decrease in the annual mean ice volume. The Southern Ocean ice pack is more sensitive to increases in precipitation. For precipitation rates 1.5 times larger than the control ones, the annual mean snow, ice, and snow-ice volumes augment by 30, 20, and 180%, respectively. It is also found that the transfer to the ocean of as much as 50% of the precipitating snow as a result of wind transport has almost negligible effects on the total ice volume. All the experiments exhibit a marked geographical contrast in the ice-cover response, with a much larger sensitivity in the western sector of the Southern Ocean than in the eastern sector. Our results suggest that snow-related processes are of secondary importance for determining the sensitivity of the Arctic sea ice to environmental changes but that these processes could have an important part to play in the response of the Antarctic sea-ice cover to future, or current, climatic changes.
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