, Volume 35, Issue 5, pp 1155-1174
Date: 15 Nov 2013

Contemporary (1960–2012) Evolution of the Climate and Surface Mass Balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet

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We assess the contemporary (1960–2012) surface mass balance (SMB) of the Greenland ice sheet (GrIS), its individual components and trends. We use output of the high-resolution (11 km) regional atmospheric climate model (RACMO2), evaluated with automatic weather stations and GRACE data. A persistent negative North Atlantic oscillation index over the last 6 years resulted in the summertime advection of relatively warm continental air toward the GrIS. Added to the enhanced radiative forcing by increased CO2 levels, this has resulted in an increase in near-surface temperature of more than 2 K during 2007–2012 compared to 1960–1990. The associated decrease in albedo led to an extra absorption of shortwave radiation of ∼6 Wm−2 (11 %) in the summer months, which is the main driver of enhanced surface melting and runoff in recent years. From 1990 onward, we see a steady increase in meltwater runoff and an associated decrease in the SMB, accelerating after 2005, with the record low SMB year in 2010. Despite the fact that the GrIS was subject to the highest surface melt rates in 2012, relatively high accumulation rates prevented 2012 to set a record low SMB. In 2012, melt occurred relatively high on the ice sheet where melt water refreezes in the porous firn layer. Up to 2005, increased runoff was partly offset by increased accumulation rates. Since then, accumulation rates have decreased, resulting in low SMB values. Other causes of decreased SMB are the loss of firn pore space and decreasing refreezing rates in the higher ablation area. The GrIS has lost in total 1,800 ± 300 Gt of mass from surface processes alone since 1990 and about half of that in the last 6 years.