Collaborative Research: Snow Transport in Katabatic Winds and Implications for the Antarctic Surface Mass Balance: Observations, Theory, and Numerical Modeling

Lead PI: Dr. Indrani Das , Marco Giometto

Unit Affiliation: Marine and Polar Geophysics, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

September 2021 - August 2024
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Katabatic or drainage winds, carry high-density air from a higher elevation down a slope under the force of gravity. Although katabatic flows are ubiquitous in alpine and polar regions, a surface-layer similarity theory is currently lacking for these flows, undermining the accuracy of numerical weather and climate prediction models. This project is interdisciplinary, and will give graduate and undergraduate students valuable experience interacting with researchers outside their core discipline. Furthermore, this project will broaden participating in science through recruitment of students from under-represented groups at OU and CU through established programs.

The Antarctic Ice Sheet drives many processes in the Earth system through its modulation of regional and global atmospheric and oceanic circulations, storage of fresh water, and effects on global albedo and climate. An understanding of the surface mass balance of the ice sheets is critical for predicting future sea level rise and for interpreting ice core records. Yet, the evolution of the ice sheets through snow deposition, erosion, and transport in katabatic winds (which are persistent across much of the Antarctic) remains poorly understood due to the lack of an overarching theoretical framework, scarcity of in situ observational datasets, and a lack of accurate numerical modeling tools. Advances in the fundamental understanding and modeling capabilities of katabatic transport processes are urgently needed in view of the future climatic and snowfall changes that are projected to occur within the Antarctic continent. This project will leverage the expertise of a multidisciplinary team of investigators (with backgrounds spanning cryospheric science, environmental fluid mechanics, and atmospheric science) to address these knowledge gaps.