The surface wind pattern over the ice sheets of Antarctica is irregular with marked areas of airflow confluence near the coastal margins. Where cold air from a large interior area of the ice sheet converges (a confluence zone), an anomalously large supply of air is available to feed the coastal katabatic winds, which, as a result, are intensified and more persistent. The confluence zone inland of Siple Coast, West Antarctica, differs from its East Antarctic counterparts in that the terrain slopes become gentler rather than steeper as the coast is approached. In addition, synoptic processes exert substantially more impact on the behavior of the surface winds.
A month-long field program to study the dynamics of the springtime katabatic wind confluence zone has been carried out near Siple Coast. Two sites, Upstream B (83.5°S, 136.1°W) and South Camp (84.5°S, 134.3°W), were established roughly perpendicular to the downslope direction. The field program involved the use of the ground-based remote sensing equipment (sodar and RASS) along with conventional surface and balloon observations. Previous analyses revealed the cross-sectional structure of the confluence zone as consisting of a more buoyant West Antarctic katabatic airflow overlying a less buoyant katabatic airflow originating from East Antarctica.
The force balances inside the confluence zone are here investigated for three situations: mean (all available wind profiles from balloon launches), and two extreme cases (light and strong winds). A linear regression method is used to estimate the mean vertical wind shears and horizontal temperature gradients. The vertical wind shears are used to examine whether or not the airflows are in geostrophic balance. The results are 1) the airflow above the surface at both sites is in geostrophic balance for the three situations; 2) inside the West Antarctic katabatic wind zone, there are three forces in the north–south direction—the restoring pressure gradient force associated with blocking of the katabatic and synoptic winds, the downslope buoyancy force, and the synoptic pressure gradient force associated with the time-averaged low in the South Pacific Ocean; 3) above the West Antarctic katabatic wind layer, the observed easterly wind is due to the synoptic pressure gradient force associated with the low; 4) inside the East Antarctic katabatic wind zone, in addition to the above three forces, there is the downslope buoyancy force associated with the inversion; and 5) large-scale transient synoptic systems strongly influence the downslope wind speed and the boundary layer depth, resulting in the light and strong wind cases.
Corresponding author address: Dr. David H. Bromwich, Byrd Polar Research Center, Atmospheric Sciences Program, The Ohio State University, 108 Scott Hall, 1090 Carmack Rd., Columbus, OH 43210-1002.