Characterization and formation of melt layers in polar snow: Observations and experiments from West Antarctica

Sarah B. Das, Richard B. Alley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Surface melting rarely occurs across most of the Antarctic ice sheet, away from the warmer coastal regions. Nonetheless, isolated melt features are preserved in the firn and ice in response to infrequent and short-lived melting events. An understanding of the formation and occurrence of these melt layers will help us to interpret records of past melt occurrences from polar ice cores such as the Siple Dome ice-core record from West Antarctica. A search in the near-surface firn in West Antarctica found that melt features are extremely rare, and consist of horizontal, laterally continuous, one to a few millimeter thick, ice layers with few air bubbles. The melt layers found date from the 1992/93 and 1991/92 summers. Field experiments to investigate changes in stratigraphy taking place during melt events reproduced melt features as seen in the natural stratigraphy. Melting conditions of varying intensity were created by passively heating the near-surface air for varying lengths of time inside a clear plastic hotbox. Melt layers formed due entirely to preferential flow and subsequent refreezing of meltwater from the surface into near-surface, fine-grained, crust layers. Continuous melt layers were formed experimentally when positive-degree-day values exceeded 1°C-day, a value corresponding well with air-temperature records from automatic weather station sites where melt layers formed in the recent past.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)307-312
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Issue number173
StatePublished - 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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