Shades of White: Explaining Variations in Clear-Sky Snow Albedo

Gert.Koenig-Langlo [ at ]


Multi-year data from four Antarctic automatic weather stations show that clear-sky snow albedo ranges from 0.77 to 0.88, varying in time and space. The broadband albedo of a snowpack under clear-sky conditions is largely determined by snow grain size, solar zenith angle, and the vertical composition of the atmosphere -- but it is not obvious which process contributes what. A model that describes broadband radiative transfer in both the atmosphere and the snowpack is used to show that the observed variations in clear-sky snow albedo is dominated by strong spatial and temporal variation in snow grain size. Average values of snow grain size range from 22 μm on the Antarctic plateau to 64 μm on the ice shelves, whereas maximum values (December, January) are 40--150% higher. The seasonal cycle in solar zenith angle explains at most 0.02 of albedo variation at a location, whereas spatial variation in the atmospheric optical thickness leads to a 0.01 difference between plateau and ice shelf albedos. The most critical success factor for this method is the quality of the radiation observations, which is most notably affected by the horizontal tilt of either the radiation sensors or the snow surface. In order to tie model and observations together, we carried out an experiment at Summit, Greenland, where we simultaneously measured albedos and snow grain sizes, about which results will be presented.

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Kuipers-Munneke, P. , Reijmer, C. H. , van den Broeke, M. R. , König-Langlo, G. , Stammes, P. and Knap, W. H. (2008): Shades of White: Explaining Variations in Clear-Sky Snow Albedo , American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2008, 2008A (abstra) .

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