Surface Formation and Preservation of Very-Low-Porosity Thin Crusts ( “Glazes”) at the WAIS Divide Site, West Antarctica

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
John M Fegyveresi1, Richard B Alley1, Atsuhiro Muto1, Matthew Keith Spencer2 and Anais J Orsi3, (1)The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, United States, (2)Lake Superior State University, Sault Saint Marie, MI, United States, (3)CEA CNRS UVSQ, Lab Sci Climat & Environm, Gif Sur Yvette, France
Observations at the WAIS Divide site show that near-surface snow is strongly altered by weather-related processes, producing features that are recognizable in the ice core. Prominent reflective “glazed” surface crusts develop frequently during the summer. Observations during austral summers 2008-09 through 2012-13, supplemented by Automated Weather Station data with insolation sensors, documented formation of such crusts during relatively low-wind, low-humidity, clear-sky periods with intense daytime sunshine. After formation, such glazed surfaces typically developed cracks in a polygonal pattern with few-meter spacing, likely from thermal contraction at night. Cracking was commonest when several clear days occurred in succession, and was generally followed by surface hoar growth. Temperature and radiation observations showed that solar heating often warmed the near-surface snow above the air temperature, contributing to mass transfer favoring crust formation. Subsequent investigation of the WDC06A deep ice core revealed that preserved surface crusts were seen in the core at an average rate of ~4.3 ± 2 yr-1 over the past 5500 years. They are about 40% more common in layers deposited during summers than during winters. The total summertime crust frequency also covaried with site temperature, with more present during warmer periods.

We hypothesize that the mechanism for glaze formation producing single-grain-thick very-low-porosity thin crusts (i.e. “glazes”) involves additional in-filling of open pores. The thermal conductivity of ice greatly exceeds that of air, so heat transport in firn is primarily conductive. Because heat flow is primarily through the grain structure, for a temperature inversion (colder upper surface) beneath a growing thin crust at the upper surface, pores will be colder than interconnected grains, favoring mass transport into those pores. Transport may occur by vapor, surface, or volume diffusion, although vapor diffusion and surface transport in pre-melted films are likely to dominate.

On-site wintertime observations have not been made, but crust formation during winter may be favored by greater wind-packing, large meteorologically-forced temperature changes reaching as high as -15oC in midwinter, and perhaps longer intervals of surface stability.