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Antarctic Research Series



  • Antarctica—Climate
  • Meteorology—Antarctica
  • Automatic weather stations

Index Terms

  • 3329 Meteorology and Atmospheric Dynamics: Mesoscale meteorology
  • 3349 Meteorology and Atmospheric Dynamics: Polar meteorology
  • 3364 Meteorology and Atmospheric Dynamics: Synoptic-scale meteorology
  • 9310 Information Related to Geographic Region: Antarctica



Katabatic winds along the Transantarctic Mountains

C. J. Breckenridge, U. Radok, C. R. Stearns, and D. H. Bromwich

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., U. Radok, C. R. Stearns, and D. H. Bromwich (1993), Katabatic winds along the Transantarctic Mountains, in Antarctic Meteorology and Climatology: Studies Based on Automatic Weather Stations, Antarct. Res. Ser., vol. 61, edited by D. H. Bromwich and C. R. Stearns, pp. 69–92, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/AR061p0069.

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