Antarctica is famous for being one of the driest and windiest places on Earth, and as such the drifting of snow across the ice surface plays an important role on local and regional climate. Since ice- and snowmelt are practically nonexistent, the sublimation (transition straight from solid to gas state) of drifting snow contributes to the loss of ice mass from Antarctica as snow would otherwise gradually be compacted to form ice. In particularly dry regions of the continent, sublimation acts to cool and moisten the air and normally limits itself as the air will be saturated with water quickly; but strong winds provide a continuous supply of fresh air, enhancing sublimation.
Jan Lenaerts and Michiel van den Broeke use a regional climate model (RCM) to map drifting snow across the continent on a very high resolution, allowing them to calculate the impact drifting snow has on Antarctic climate. They find that, compared to a calculation that disregards snow drift, total sublimation doubles and can contribute significantly to local mass changes. On the scale of the whole continent, however, they conclude that drifting snow and sublimation do not have a significant impact on the ice mass gains and losses of the Antarctic ice sheet.
Ice2sea Work Package: WP3.2
Publication: Lenaerts, J. T. M., and M. R. van de Broeke (2012), Modeling drifting snow in Antarctica with a regional climate model: 2. Results, Journal of Geophysical Research, 117, 1-11.