Foehn warming distributions in nonlinear and linear flow regimes: a focus on the Antarctic Peninsula

Andrew Elvidge, Ian Renfrew, John King, Andrew Orr, Tom Lachlan-Cope

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The structure of lee-side warming during foehn events is investigated as a function of cross-barrier flow regime linearity. Two contrasting cases of westerly flow over the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) are considered – one highly nonlinear, the other relatively linear. Westerly flow impinging on the AP provides one of the best natural laboratories in the world for the study of foehn, owing to its maritime setting and the Larsen C Ice Shelf (LCIS) providing an expansive, homogeneous and smooth surface on its east side. Numerical simulations with the Met Office Unified Model (at 1.5 km grid size) and aircraft observations are utilized. In case A, relatively weak southwesterly cross-Peninsula flow and an elevated upwind inversion dictate a highly nonlinear foehn event, with mountain wave breaking observed. The consequent strongly accelerated downslope flow leads to high-amplitude warming and ice-shelf melt in the immediate lee of the AP. However this foehn warming diminishes rapidly downwind due to upward ascent of the foehn flow via a hydraulic jump. In case C, strong northwesterly winds dictate a relatively linear flow regime. There is no hydraulic jump and strong foehn winds are able to flow at low levels across the entire ice shelf, mechanically mixing the near-surface flow, preventing the development of a strong surface inversion and delivering large fluxes of sensible heat to the ice shelf. Consequently, in case C ice-melt rates are considerably greater over the LCIS as a whole than in case A. Our results imply that although nonlinear foehn events cause intense warming in the immediate lee of mountains, linear foehn events will commonly cause more extensive lee-side warming and, over an ice surface, higher melt rates. This has major implications for the AP, where recent east-coast warming has led to the collapse of two ice shelves immediately north of the LCIS.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)618-631
Number of pages14
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Issue number695
Early online date13 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


  • foehn
  • Larsen Ice Shelf
  • gravity wave breaking
  • hydraulic jump
  • Met Office Unified Model
  • melt rates

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