Skip to main content Accessibility help

Observations of surface mass balance on Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica, and the effect of strain history in fast-flowing sections



Surface mass balance (SMB) is the net input of mass on a glacier's upper surface, composed of snow deposition, melt and erosion processes, and is a major contributor to the overall mass balance. Pine Island Glacier (PIG) in West Antarctica has been dynamically imbalanced since the early 1990s, indicating that discharge of solid ice into the oceans exceeds snow deposition. However, observations of the SMB pattern on the fast flowing regions are scarce, and are potentially affected by the firn's strain history. Here, we present new observations from radar-derived stratigraphy and a relatively dense network of firn cores, collected along a ~900 km traverse of PIG. Between 1986 and 2014, the SMB along the traverse was 0.505 m w.e. a−1 on average with a gradient of higher snow deposition in the South-West compared with the North-East of the catchment. We show that along ~80% of the traverse the strain history amounts to a misestimation of SMB below the nominal uncertainty, but can exceed it by a factor 5 in places, making it a significant correction to the SMB estimate locally. We find that the strain correction changes the basin-wide SMB by ~0.7 Gt a−1 and thus forms a negligible (1%) correction to the glacier's total SMB.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Observations of surface mass balance on Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica, and the effect of strain history in fast-flowing sections
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Observations of surface mass balance on Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica, and the effect of strain history in fast-flowing sections
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Observations of surface mass balance on Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica, and the effect of strain history in fast-flowing sections
      Available formats


This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Correspondence: Anna E. Hogg <>


Hide All
Arcone, SA, Spikes, VB and Hamilton, GS (2005) Stratigraphic variation within polar firn caused by differential accumulation and ice flow: interpretation of a 400 MHz short-pulse radar profile from West Antarctica. J. Glaciol., 51(174), 407422 (doi: 10.3189/172756505781829151)
Arthern, RJ, Winebrenner, DP and Vaughan, DG (2006) Antarctic snow accumulation mapped using polarization of 4.3-cm wavelength microwave emission. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 111, D06107 (doi:
Arthern, RJ, Hindmarsh, RCA and Williams, CR (2015) Flow speed within the Antarctic ice sheet and its controls inferred from satellite observations. J. Geophys. Res., 120(7), 11711188 (doi:
Bingham, and 12 others (2017) Diverse landscapes beneath Pine Island Glacier influence rates of ice loss. Nat. Commun., 8, 1618 (doi: 10.1038/s41467-017-01597-y)
Colwell, S, Keller, LM, Lazzara, MA, Setzer, A and Fogt, RL (2015) Surface staffed and automatic weather station observations. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc., 96, S151S153
Cuffey, KM and Paterson, WSB (2010) The physics of glaciers 4th edn., Elsevier Science, Amsterdam.
Dansgaard, W and Johnsen, SJ (1969) A flow model and time scale for the ice core from camp century, Greenland. J. Glaciol., 8(53), 215223 (doi: 10.3189/S0022143000031208)
Dee, DP and 35 others (2011) The ERA-Interim reanalysis: configuration and performance of the data assimilation system. Q. J. R. Meteor. Soc., 137, 553597 Available at
Eisen, O, Wilhelms, F, Nixdorf, U and Miller, H (2003) Revealing the nature of radar reflections in ice: DEP-based FDTD forward modelling. Geophys. Res. Lett., 30(5), Article Id 1218 (doi:
Eisen, O and 15 others (2008) Ground-based measurements of spatial and temporal variability of snow accumulation in east Antarctica. Rev. Geophys., 46, RG2001 (doi: 10.1029/2006RG000218)
Fahnestock, M, Abdalati, W, Luo, S and Gogineni, S (2001) Internal layer tracing and age-depth-accumulation relationships for the northern Greenland ice sheet. J. Geophys. Res., 106(D24), 33,78933,797 (doi: 10.1029/2001JD900200)
Gallée, H and 5 others (2013) Transport of snow by the wind: a comparison between observations in Adélie Land, Antarctica, and simulations made with the regional climate model MAR. Bound.-Lay. Meteorol., 146, 133147 (doi:
Hawley, R and 6 others (2014) Recent accumulation variability in northwest Greenland from ground-penetrating radar and shallow cores along the Greenland Inland Traverse. J. Glaciol., 60(220), 375382 (doi: 10.3189/2014JoG13J141)
Hogg, AE and 11 others (2017) Increased ice flow in Western Palmer Land linked to ocean melting. Geophys. Res. Lett., 44, 41594167 (doi: 10.1002/2016GL072110)
Howat, IM, de la Peña, S, Desilets, D and Womack, G (2018) Autonomous ice sheet surface mass balance measurements from cosmic rays. The Cryoshpere, 12, 20992108 (doi: 10.5194/tc-12-2099-2018)
Jenkins, A, Corr, H, Nicholls, K, Stewart, C and Doake, C (2006) Interactions between ice and ocean observed with phase-sensitive radar near an Antarctic ice-shelf grounding line. J. Glaciol., 52(178), 325346 (doi: 10.3189/172756506781828502)
Karlsson, NB, Rippin, DM, Vaughan, DG and Corr, HFJ (2009) The internal layering of Pine Island Glacier, west Antarctica, from airborne radar-sounding data. Ann. Glaciol., 50(51), 141146 (doi: 10.3189/S0260305500250660)
Karlsson, NB and 5 others (2014) Constraining past accumulation in the central Pine Island Glacier basin, West Antarctica, using radio-echo sounding. J. Glaciol., 60( 221), 553562 (doi: 10.3189/2014JoG13J180)
Kobayashi, S and 11 others (2015) The JRA-55 reanalysis: general specifications and basic characteristics. J. Meteorol. Soc. Jpn., 93, 548 (doi: 10.2151/jmsj.2015-001).
Kovacs, A, Gow, AJ and Morey, RM (1995) The in-situ dielectric constant of polar firn revisited. Cold Reg. Sci. Technol., 23(3), 245256 (doi:
Kuipers Munneke, P, Picard, G, van den Broeke, MR, Lenaerts, JTM and van Meijgaard, E (2012) Insignificant change in Antarctic snowmelt volume since 1979. Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L01501 (doi: 10.1029/2011GL050207)
Lenaerts, JTM and 11 others (2018) Climate and surface mass balance of coastal West Antarctica resolved by regional climate modelling. Ann. Glaciol., 59, 2941 (doi: 10.1017/aog.2017.42)
Leysinger Vieli, GJ-MC, Hindmarsh, RCA and Siegert, MJ (2007) Three-dimensional flow influences on radar layers stratigraphy. Ann. Glaciol., 46(1), 2228 (doi: 10.3189/172756407782871729)
Ligtenberg, SRM, Horwath, M, van den Broeke, MR and Legrésy, B (2012) Quantifying the seasonal “breathing” of the Antarctic ice sheet. Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L23501 (doi: 10.1029/2012GL053628)
Lilien, DA and 7 others (2018) Holocene ice-flow speedup in the vicinity of the South Pole. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 65576565 (doi: 10.1029/2018GL078253)
McMillan, M and 14 others (2016) A high-resolution record of Greenland mass balance. Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, 70027010 (doi: 10.1002/2016GL069666)
Medley, B and 14 others (2014) Constraining the recent mass balance of pine island and Thwaites Glaciers, West Antarctica, with airborne observations of snow accumulation. The Cryosphere, 8(4), 13751392 (doi: 10.5194/tc-8-1375-2014)
Morris, EM and Cooper, JD (2003) Density measurements in ice boreholes using neutron scattering. J. Glaciol. 49, 599604 (doi: 10.3189/172756503781830403)
Morris, EM and 9 others (2017) Snow densification and recent accumulation along the iSTAR Traverse, Pine Island Glacier, Antarctica. JGR Earth Surf., 122, 22842301 (doi: 10.1002/2017JF004357)
Mouginot, J, Rignot, E and Scheuchl, B (2014) Sustained increase in ice discharge from the Amundsen Sea Embayment, West Antarctica, from 1973 to 2013. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41(5), 15761584 (doi: 10.1002/2013GL059069)
Navarro, F and Eisen, O (2009) Ground-penetrating radar in glaciological applications. In Pellika, P and Rees, G, eds. Remote sensing of glaciers. Taylor and Francis, London, 195229.
Ng, F and King, EC (2011) Kinematic waves in polar firn stratigraphy. J. Glaciol., 57(206), 11191134 (doi: 10.3189/002214311798843340)
Park, JW and 5 others (2013) Sustained retreat of the Pine Island Glacier. Geophys. Res. Lett., 40(10), 21372142 (doi: 10.1002/grl.50379)
Parry, V and 6 others (2007) Investigations of meltwater refreezing and density variations in the snowpack and firn within the percolation zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Ann. Glaciol., 46, 6168 (doi: 10.3189/172756407782871332)
Rignot, E (2008) Changes in west Antarctic ice stream dynamics observed with ALOS PALSAR data. Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L12505 (doi: 10.1029/2008GL033365)
Rignot, E, Mouginot, J and Scheuchl, B (2011) Ice flow of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Science, 333, 14271430 (doi: 10.1126/science.1208336)
Siegfried, MR, Medley, B, Larson, KM, Fricker, HA and Tulaczyk, S (2017) Snow accumulation variability on a West Antarctic ice stream observed with GPS reflectometry, 2007–2017. Geophys. Res. Lett., 44, 78087816 (doi: 10.1002/2017GL074039)
Sigg, A and Neftel, A (1988) Seasonal variations in hydrogen peroxide in polar ice cores. Ann. Glaciol., 10(1), 157162 (doi: 10.3189/S0260305500004353)
Spikes, VB, Hamilton, GS, Arcone, SA and Kaspari, S (2004) Variability in accumulation rates from GPR profiling on the West Antarctic plateau. Ann. Glaciol., 39, 238244 (doi: 10.3189/172756404781814393)
van de Berg, WJ, van den Broeke, MR, Reijmer, CH and van Meijgaard, E (2006) Reassessment of the Antarctic surface mass balance using calibrated output of a regional atmospheric climate model. J. Geophys. Res., 111, D11104 (doi: 10.1029/2005JD006495)
van Wessem, JM and 10 others (2016) The modelled surface mass balance of the Antarctic peninsula at 5.5 km horizontal resolution. The Cryosphere, 10, 271285 (doi: 10.5194/tc-10-271-2016)
van Wessem, JM and 19 others (2018) Modelling the climate and surface mass balance of polar ice sheets using RACMO2 – part 2: Antarctica (1979–2016). The Cryosphere, 12, 14791498 (doi: 10.5194/tc-12-1479-2018)
Vaughan, DG, Bamber, JL, Giovinetto, M, Russell, J and Cooper, APR (1999) Reassessment of net surface mass balance in Antarctica. J. Clim., 12, 933946 (doi: 10.1175/1520-0442)
Waddington, ED, Neumann, TA, Koutnik, MR and Marshall, HP (2007) Inference of accumulation-rate patterns from deep layers in glaciers and ice sheets. J. Glaciol., 53(183), 694712 (doi: 10.3189/002214307784409351)
Zwally, HJ Giovinetto, MBBeckley, AM and Saba, JL (2012) Antarctic and Greenland Drainage Systems. GSFC Cryospheric Sciences Laboratory. Available at:



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed