Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
Research article
26 Jan 2017
Research article |  | 26 Jan 2017

Diagnosing the decline in climatic mass balance of glaciers in Svalbard over 1957–2014

Torbjørn Ims Østby, Thomas Vikhamar Schuler, Jon Ove Hagen, Regine Hock, Jack Kohler, and Carleen H. Reijmer

Abstract. Estimating the long-term mass balance of the high-Arctic Svalbard archipelago is difficult due to the incomplete geodetic and direct glaciological measurements, both in space and time. To close these gaps, we use a coupled surface energy balance and snow pack model to analyse the mass changes of all Svalbard glaciers for the period 1957–2014. The model is forced by ERA-40 and ERA-Interim reanalysis data, downscaled to 1 km resolution. The model is validated using snow/firn temperature and density measurements, mass balance from stakes and ice cores, meteorological measurements, snow depths from radar profiles and remotely sensed surface albedo and skin temperatures. Overall model performance is good, but it varies regionally. Over the entire period the model yields a climatic mass balance of 8.2 cm w. e.  yr−1, which corresponds to a mass input of 175 Gt. Climatic mass balance has a linear trend of −1.4 ± 0.4 cm w. e.  yr−2 with a shift from a positive to a negative regime around 1980. Modelled mass balance exhibits large interannual variability, which is controlled by summer temperatures and further amplified by the albedo feedback. For the recent period 2004–2013 climatic mass balance was −21 cm w. e.  yr−1, and accounting for frontal ablation estimated by Błaszczyk et al.(2009) yields a total Svalbard mass balance of −39 cm w. e.  yr−1 for this 10-year period. In terms of eustatic sea level, this corresponds to a rise of 0.037 mm yr−1.

Refreezing of water in snow and firn is substantial at 22 cm w. e.  yr−1 or 26 % of total annual accumulation. However, as warming leads to reduced firn area over the period, refreezing decreases both absolutely and relative to the total accumulation. Negative mass balance and elevated equilibrium line altitudes (ELAs) resulted in massive reduction of the thick (>  2 m) firn extent and an increase in the superimposed ice, thin (<  2 m) firn and bare ice extents. Atmospheric warming also leads to a marked change in the thermal regime, with cooling of the glacier mid-elevation and warming in the ablation zone and upper firn areas. On the long-term, by removing the thermal barrier, this warming has implications for the vertical transfer of surface meltwater through the glacier and down to the base, influencing basal hydrology, sliding and thereby overall glacier motion.

Short summary
We present modelled climatic mass balance for all glaciers in Svalbard for the period 1957–2014 at 1 km resolution using a coupled surface energy balance and snowpack model, thereby closing temporal and spatial gaps in direct and geodetic mass balance estimates. Supporting previous studies, our results indicate increased mass loss over the period. A detailed analysis of the involved energy fluxes reveals that increased mass loss is caused by atmospheric warming further amplified by feedbacks.