Arctic Surface Snow Interactions with the Atmosphere: Spatio-Temporal Isotopic Variability During the MOSAiC Expedition

Mellat, Moein; Macfarlane, Amy R.; Brunello, Camilla F.; Werner, Martin; Schneebeli, Martin; Dadic, Ruzica; Arndt, Stefanie; Mustonen, Kaisa-Riikka; Welker, Jeffrey M.; Meyer, Hanno

The Arctic Ocean’s snow cover is crucial in moderating interactions between sea-ice and the atmosphere, yet fully grasping its isotopic composition and the processes shaping it presents substantial challenges. This study employs a unique dataset from the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition to explore the complex interactions between deposition processes and post-depositional changes affecting snow on Arctic sea ice. By examining 911 individual snow isotope measurements collected over a full year, we identify a clear layering within the snowpack: the top layer, with lower δ 18O values and higher d-excess values, indicates fresh meteoric snowfall, while the bottom layer, affected by the sea ice beneath, shows higher δ 18O values and lower d- d-excess values. By integrating these discrete snow samples with continuous vapour isotope data, our research provides insight into interactions between snow and the atmosphere, as well as the processes that alter isotopic signatures within Arctic snow.

We observe a significant difference in δ18O values between snow and vapor during autumn, mainly due to delays in sampling after precipitation events, with d-excess ranges suggesting the impact of Atlantic moisture. Winter months exhibit sharp differences in δ18O and d-excess values, indicating kinetic fractionation amid extreme cold as the RV Polarstern traverses from the Siberian to the Atlantic sector of the Arctic Ocean. Conversely, summer months display a convergence in isotopic signatures, reflecting conditions favouring equilibrium fractionation, highlighted by increased air temperatures and humidity levels. While δ18O in vapour readily responds to changes in air temperature and humidity, surface snow δ18O is influenced more by subsequent processes such as sublimation and wind-driven redistribution. Sublimation, intensified by the snow’s prolonged surface residence and facilitated by the porosity of snow, plays a key role in isotopic enrichment. Wind-driven snow redistribution, occurring 67 % of the winter, led to a homogenised and depleted surface snow δ18O signal across the sea ice by spreading lower δ18O meteoric snow. This effect was especially pronounced in ridge snow profiles, where the top layers showed a uniform δ18O signal, in stark contrast to flat ice samples.

Furthermore, distinct isotopic patterns were detected along the MOSAiC expedition route from a region close to Samoylov Island to Fram Straight near Ny-Ålesund. Snow samples close to Samoylov Island exhibited notable seasonal δ18O variations, which were indicative of a continental climate. In contrast, samples from Ny-Ålesund displayed more consistent fluctuations, influenced by steady Atlantic moisture.

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Mellat, Moein / Macfarlane, Amy R. / Brunello, Camilla F. / et al: Arctic Surface Snow Interactions with the Atmosphere: Spatio-Temporal Isotopic Variability During the MOSAiC Expedition. 2024. Copernicus Publications.

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