A snow density dataset for improving surface boundary conditions in Greenland Ice Sheet firn modeling

Robert S. Fausto, Jason E. Box, Baptiste Vandecrux, Dirk van As, Konrad Steffen, Michael J. MacFerrin, Horst Machguth, William Colgan, Lora S. Koenig, Daniel McGrath, Charalampos Charalampidis, Roger J. Braithwaite

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


The surface snow density of glaciers and ice sheets is of fundamental importance in converting volume to mass in both altimetry and surface mass balance studies, yet it is often poorly constrained. Site-specific surface snow densities are typically derived fromempirical relations based on temperature and wind speed. These parameterizations commonly calculate the average density of the top meter of snow, thereby systematically overestimating snow density at the actual surface. Therefore, constraining surface snow density to the top 0.1mcan improve boundary conditions in high-resolution firn-evolution modeling. We have compiled an extensive dataset of 200 point measurements of surface snow density from firn cores and snow pits on the Greenland ice sheet. We find that surface snow density within 0.1m of the surface has an average value of 315kg m −3 with a standard deviation of 44kg m −3, and has an insignificant annual air temperature dependency. We demonstrate that two widely-used surface snow density parameterizations dependent on temperature systematically overestimate surface snow density over the Greenland ice sheet by 17–19%, and that using a constant density of 315kg m −3 may give superior results when applied in surface mass budget modeling.

Original languageEnglish
Article number51
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2018


  • Firn
  • Greenland
  • Model boundary condition
  • Parameterization
  • Snow surface density
  • Surface mass budget

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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