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Greenland ice sheet (changes)

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If the entire 2.8510 62.85 \cdot 10^6 km3 (2.8510 152.85 \cdot 10^{15} tonnes) of ice in Greenland were to melt, it would lead to a global sea level rise of 7.2 meters. This would inundate most of the world’s coastal cities and remove several small island countries from the face of the Earth, since island nations such as Tuvalu and Maldives have a maximum altitude below or just above this level.

Wikipedia defines the Greenland ice sheet as follows:

The Greenland ice sheet (Kalaallisut: Sermersuaq) is a vast body of ice covering 1,710,000 square kilometres (660,235 sq mi), roughly 80% of the surface of Greenland. It is the second largest ice body in the world, after the Antarctic Ice Sheet. The ice sheet is almost 2,400 kilometres (1,500 mi) long in a north-south direction, and its greatest width is 1,100 kilometres (680 mi) at a latitude of 77°N, near its northern margin. The mean altitude of the ice is 2135 metres. The thickness is generally more than 2 km (1.24 mi) (see picture) and over 3 km (1.86 mi) at its thickest point.

map of ice sheet thickness

It is not the only ice mass of Greenland – isolated glaciers and small ice caps cover between 76,000 and 100,000 square kilometres (29,344 and 38,610 sq mi) around the periphery. Some scientists predict that climate change may be about to push the ice sheet over a threshold where the entire ice sheet will melt in less than a few hundred years. If the entire 2,850,000 cubic kilometres (683,751 cu mi) of ice were to melt, it would lead to a global sea level rise of 7.2 m (23.6 ft).


The authors attribute significantly increased Greenland summer warmth and Greenland Ice Sheet melt and runoff since 1990 to global warming. Southern Greenland coastal and Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures were uncorrelated between the 1960s and early 1990s but were significantly positively correlated thereafter. This relationship appears to have been modulated by the North Atlantic Oscillation, whose summer index was significantly (negatively) correlated with southern Greenland summer temperatures until the early 1990s but not thereafter.

Significant warming in southern Greenland since 1990, as also evidenced from Swiss Camp on the west flank of the ice sheet, therefore reflects general Northern Hemisphere and global warming. Summer 2003 was the warmest since at least 1958 in coastal southern Greenland. The second warmest coastal summer 2005 had the most extensive anomalously warm conditions over the ablation zone of the ice sheet, which caused a record melt extent. The year 2006 was the third warmest in coastal southern Greenland and had the third-highest modeled runoff in the last 49 yr from the ice sheet; five of the nine highest runoff years occurred since 2001 inclusive. Significantly rising runoff since 1958 was largely compensated by increased precipitation and snow accumulation. Also, as observed since 1987 in a single composite record at Summit, summer temperatures near the top of the ice sheet have declined slightly but not significantly, suggesting the overall ice sheet

is experiencing a dichotomous response to the recent general warming: possible reasons include the ice sheet’s high thermal inertia, higher atmospheric cooling,or changes in regional wind, cloud, and/or radiation patterns.

ABSTRACT. SeaRISE (Sea-level Response to Ice Sheet Evolution) is a US-led multi-model community effort to predict the likely range of the contribution of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to sealevel rise over the next few hundred years under global warming conditions. The Japanese ice-sheet modelling community is contributing to SeaRISE with two large-scale, dynamic/thermodynamic models: SICOPOLIS and IcIES. Here we discuss results for the Greenland ice sheet, obtained using both models under the forcings (surface temperature and precipitation scenarios) defined by the SeaRISE effort.

A crucial point for meaningful simulations into the future is to obtain initial conditions that are close to the observed state of the present-day ice sheet. This is achieved by proper tuning during model spin-up from the last glacial/interglacial cycle to today. Experiments over 500 years indicate that both models are more sensitive (exhibit a larger rate of ice-sheet mass loss) to future climate warming (based on the A1B emission scenario) than to a doubling in the basal sliding speed. Ice-sheet mass loss varies between the two models by a factor of 2 for sliding experiments and a factor of 3 for climate-warming experiments, highlighting the importance of improved constraints on the parameterization of basal sliding and surface mass balance in ice-sheet models.

Abstract The future evolution of global ice sheets under anthropogenic greenhouse forcing and its impact on the climate system, including the regional climate of the ice sheets, are investigated with a comprehensive earth system model consisting of a coupled Atmosphere–Ocean General Circulation Model, a dynamic vegetation model and an ice sheet model. The simulated control climate is realistic enough to permit a direct coupling of the atmosphere and ice sheet components, avoiding the use of anomaly coupling, which represents a strong improvement with respect to previous modelling studies. Glacier ablation is calculated with an energy-balance scheme, a more physical approach than the commonly used degree-day method.

Modifications of glacier mask, topographic height and freshwater fluxes by the ice sheets influence the atmosphere and ocean via dynamical and thermodynamical processes. Several simulations under idealized scenarios of greenhouse forcing have been performed, where the atmospheric carbon dioxide stabilizes at two and four times pre-industrial levels. The evolution of the climate system and the ice sheets in the simulations with interactive ice sheets is compared with the simulations with passively coupled ice sheets. For a four-times CO2 scenario forcing, a faster decay rate of the Greenland ice sheet is found in the non-interactive case, where melting rates are higher. This is caused by overestimation of the increase in near-surface temperature that follows the reduction in topographic height. In areas close to retreating margins, melting rates are stronger in the interactive case, due to changes in local albedo. Our results call for careful consideration of the feedbacks operating between ice sheets and climate after substantial decay of the ice sheets.

Abstract: In this paper we discuss a new method for determining mass time series for 16 hydrological basins representing the Greenland system (GS) whereby we rely on Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission data. In the same analysis we also considered observed mass changes over Ellesmere Island, Baffin Island, Iceland, and Svalbard (EBIS). The summed contribution of the complete system yields a mass loss rate and acceleration of −252 ± 28 Gt/yr and −22 ± 4 Gt/yr2 between March 2003 and February 2010 where the error margins follow from two glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) models and three processing centers providing GRACE monthly potential coefficient sets. We describe the relation between mass losses in the GS and the EBIS region and found that the uncertainties in all areas are correlated.

The summed contribution of Ellesmere Island, Baffin Island, Iceland, and Svalbard yields a mass loss rate of −51 ± 17 Gt/yr and an acceleration of −13 ± 3 Gt/yr2 between March 2003 and February 2010. The new regional basin reconstruction method shows that the mass loss within the southeastern basins in the GS has slowed down since 2007, while mass loss in western basins increased showing a progression to the north of Greenland.

Abstract: The Greenland ice sheet has been one of the largest contributors to global sea-level rise over the past 20 years, accounting for 0.5 mm yr 1{}^{-1} of a total of 3.2 mm yr 1{}^{-1}. A significant portion of this contribution is associated with the speed-up of an increased number of glaciers in southeast and northwest Greenland. Here, we show that the northeast Greenland ice stream, which extends more than 600 km into the interior of the ice sheet, is now undergoing sustained dynamic thinning, linked to regional warming, after more than a quarter of a century of stability. This sector of the Greenland ice sheet is of particular interest, because the drainage basin area covers 16% of the ice sheet (twice that of Jakobshavn Isbræ) and numerical model predictions suggest no significant mass loss for this sector, leading to an under-estimation of future global sea-level rise. The geometry of the bedrock and monotonic trend in glacier speed-up and mass loss suggests that dynamic drawdown of ice in this region will continue in the near future.

See also:

  • Sea level rise, Azimuth Library.

  • Greenland ice sheet, Wikipedia.

  • The Forum of Neven’s Artic Sea Ice Blog has many excellent technical discussions (e.g. suggested work for differential geometers) and images (radar, bed topography, etc.). Sometimes things are observed there first, like the big 2015 calving of Jacobshavn glacier.