Observed and parameterized roughness lengths for momentum and heat over rough ice surfaces

Maurice van Tiggelen, Paul C.J.P. Smeets, Carleen H. Reijmer, Michiel R. van den Broeke, Dirk van As, Jason E. Box, Robert S. Fausto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Turbulent heat fluxes, that is, the sensible heat flux and latent heat flux, are important sources/sinks of energy for surface melt over glaciers and ice sheets. Therefore, credible simulations of for example, future Greenland Ice Sheet mass loss need an accurate description of these fluxes. However, the parameterization of surface turbulent heat fluxes in climate models requires knowledge about the surface roughness lengths for momentum, heat and moisture, which are currently either unknown or tuned to indirect observations. In this study we take advantage of a large data set of eddy covariance observations acquired during multiple years and at multiple sites over the Greenland Ice Sheet. These in-situ observations are used to develop an improved parameterization for the roughness length for momentum, and update the parameterization for the roughness lengths for heat and moisture over rough ice surfaces. The newly derived parameterizations are implemented in a surface energy balance model that is used to compute surface melt. Sensitivity experiments confirm the high sensitivity of surface melt to the chosen roughness length models. The new parameterization models the sensible heat flux to within 10 W m−2, and the cumulative ice ablation within 10% at three out of four sites. Two case studies demonstrate the important contribution of the turbulent heat fluxes to surface ablation. The presented roughness parameterizations can be implemented in climate models to improve the physical representation of surface roughness over rough snow and ice surfaces, which is expected to improve the modeled turbulent heat fluxes and thus surface melt.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2022JD036970
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2023


  • eddy covariance
  • Greenland ice sheet
  • melt events
  • roughness
  • sensible heat flux
  • surface fluxes

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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