Scott T. Salesky, assistant professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, is the principal investigator of a recently awarded $ 530,297 grant through the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs to study how winds katabatic – cold, dense winds flowing over a sloping surface – impact the transport of snow and ultimately contribute to the growth of the Antarctic ice sheet.
The study is a collaborative effort between Salesky and his colleagues at Columbia University in New York City. The NSF funding will allow researchers from OU and Columbia to conduct fieldwork near McMurdo Station, an American research station located at the southern tip of Ross Island in Antarctica.
Katabatic winds, also known as drainage winds, carry high-density air from a higher altitude along a slope under the force of gravity. Although katabatic flows are ubiquitous in alpine and polar regions, the turbulent transport of heat, water vapor, momentum, and particles (such as snow) is poorly understood in these flows, which which compromises the accuracy of numerical weather and climate prediction models.
Salesky said the study is important because “the Antarctic ice sheet drives many processes in the Earth system through its modulation of regional and global atmospheric and oceanic circulations, freshwater storage and effects on global albedo and climate “. Albedo is a non-dimensional, unitless quantity that indicates how well a surface reflects solar energy.
“An understanding of the surface mass balance of ice caps is essential for predicting future sea level rise and for interpreting ice core records,” he said. “Yet the evolution of ice caps through snow deposition, erosion and transport in katabatic winds, which are persistent across much of Antarctica, remains poorly understood due to the lack of a global theoretical framework, the scarcity of observational datasets and the lack of precise numerical modeling tools.
According to Salesky, advances in the fundamental understanding and modeling capabilities of transport processes in katabatic flows are urgently needed given the future climate change and snowfall that is expected to occur on the Antarctic continent.
“This project combines basic fluid mechanics research with an important environmental problem – the extent to which blowing snow contributes to the growth and erosion of the Antarctic ice sheet,” said Salesky. “This will give OU and Columbia graduate and undergraduate students valuable experience interacting with researchers outside of the core discipline and give them experience in both numerical modeling and fieldwork. . “
“This major National Science Foundation research grant to Professor Salesky, which focuses on a critical meteorological and climatic aspect of Antarctica, is very important,” said Berrien Moore, Dean of the OU College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, chairman of the Chesapeake Energy Corporation. in Climate Studies and Director of the National Weather Center. “Advancing our understanding of the polar regions is essential for understanding global climate change. This award also advances the university’s strategic plan and the direction, structure and direction of OU research for the coming decade. Young scientists at the university continue to excel nationally and internationally.
“NSF support will give us a unique opportunity to study the near-surface structure of turbulence in katabatic winds, the dynamics of which are still beyond our full understanding,” said Marco Giometto, assistant professor of civil engineering and of Engineering Mechanics at Columbia University, with whom Salessky is collaborating on the project.
“This focused effort will contribute to the formulation of a comprehensive theoretical framework for the description of transport processes in katabatic winds, which in turn will lead to advances in our ability to numerically simulate the weather in mountainous regions and phenomena climatic, ”said Giometto.
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