ANTARCTIC RESEARCH SERIES, VOL. 61, PP. 69-92, 1993
Katabatic winds along the Transantarctic Mountains
Thermal infrared satellite imagery of the Ross Ice Shelf area of Antarctica often indicates dark streaks emanating from the
major glaciers of the Transantarctic Mountains. Past authors have shown that these streaks indicate katabatic wind activity.
In the present study, satellite imagery, automatic weather station (AWS) data, and synoptic analyses are used to characterize
such activity for the 1982 austral winter. Over 50% of all available thermal infrared satellite images (those both with and
without cloud cover) containing the Ross Island area and Skelton, Mulock, and Byrd glaciers show katabatic winds at one or
more of these glaciers. However, it is likely that katabatic winds are present in nearly all the sufficiently cloud-free imagery.
The overall frequency of katabatic activity may also be higher depending on its occurrence during cloudy conditions. Comparison
of a case of intense katabatic winds in June 1982 with a case during July 1982 devoid of such winds indicates a dramatic difference
in the supply of radiationally cooled near-surface air over the polar plateau. During the intense katabatic event, surface
temperatures recorded by an AWS on the East Antarctic plateau are up to 45°C colder than surface temperatures at AWS sites
on the Ross Ice Shelf, with potential temperatures up to 15 K lower. By contrast, during the case without katabatic winds,
surface temperatures on the plateau are up to 15°C warmer (potential temperatures up to 45 K higher) than those on the Ross
Ice Shelf. Thus the katabatic winds are likely of the “fall” type (i.e., requiring a supply of cold air at high elevations).
A synoptic scale low-pressure area over the eastern Ross Sea/Ross Ice Shelf also appears conducive for intense katabatic activity.
Citation: Breckenridge, C. J.,