Surface processes and drivers of the snow water stable isotopic composition at Dome C, East Antarctica – a multi-datasets and modelling analysis

Ollivier, Inès; Steen-Larsen, Hans Christian; Stenni, Barbara; Arnaud, Laurent; Casado, Mathieu; Cauquoin, Alexandre; Dreossi, Giuliano; Genthon, Christophe; Minster, Bénédicte; Picard, Ghislain; Werner, Martin; Landais, Amaëlle

Water stable isotope records in polar ice cores have been largely used to reconstruct past local temperatures and other climatic information such as evaporative source region conditions of the precipitation reaching the ice core sites. However, recent studies have identified post-depositional processes taking place at the ice sheet's surface modifying the original precipitation signal and challenging the traditional interpretation of ice core isotopic records. In this study, we use a combination of existing and new datasets of the precipitation, snow surface and subsurface isotopic compositions (δ 18O and d-excess), meteorological parameters, ERA5 reanalyses, outputs from the isotope-enabled climate model ECHAM6-wiso, and a simple modelling approach to investigate the transfer function of water stable isotopes from precipitation to the snow surface and subsurface at Dome C, in East Antarctica. We first show that water vapor fluxes at the surface of the ice sheet result in a net annual sublimation of snow, from 3.1 to 3.7 mm water equivalent per year between 2018 and 2020, corresponding to 12 to 15 % of the annual surface mass balance. We find that the precipitation isotopic signal cannot fully explain the mean, nor the variability of the isotopic composition observed in the snow, from annual to intra-monthly timescales. We observe that the mean effect of post-depositional processes over the study period enriches the snow surface in δ 18O by 3.3 ‰ to 6.6 ‰ and lowers the snow surface d-excess by 3.5 ‰ to 7.6 ‰ compared to the incoming precipitation isotopic signal. We also show that the mean isotopic composition of the subsurface snow is not statistically different from that of the surface snow, indicating the preservation of the mean isotopic composition of the surface snow in the top centimetres of the snowpack. This study confirms previous findings about the complex interpretation of the water stable isotopic signal in the snow and provides the first quantitative estimation of the impact of post-depositional processes on the snow isotopic composition at Dome C, a crucial step for the accurate interpretation of isotopic records from ice cores.



Ollivier, Inès / Steen-Larsen, Hans Christian / Stenni, Barbara / et al: Surface processes and drivers of the snow water stable isotopic composition at Dome C, East Antarctica – a multi-datasets and modelling analysis. 2024. Copernicus Publications.


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