Articles | Volume 2, issue 2
08 Dec 2008
 | 08 Dec 2008

Partitioning of melt energy and meltwater fluxes in the ablation zone of the west Greenland ice sheet

M. van den Broeke, P. Smeets, J. Ettema, C. van der Veen, R. van de Wal, and J. Oerlemans

Abstract. We present four years (August 2003–August 2007) of surface mass balance data from the ablation zone of the west Greenland ice sheet along the 67° N latitude circle. Sonic height rangers and automatic weather stations continuously measured accumulation/ablation and near-surface climate at distances of 6, 38 and 88 km from the ice sheet margin at elevations of 490, 1020 and 1520 m a.s.l. Using a melt model and reasonable assumptions about snow density and percolation characteristics, these data are used to quantify the partitioning of energy and mass fluxes during melt episodes. The lowest site receives very little winter accumulation, and ice melting is nearly continuous in June, July and August. Due to the lack of snow accumulation, little refreezing occurs and virtually all melt energy is invested in runoff. Higher up the ice sheet, the ice sheet surface freezes up during the night, making summer melting intermittent. At the intermediate site, refreezing in snow consumes about 10% of the melt energy, increasing to 40% at the highest site. The sum of these effects is that total melt and runoff increase exponentially towards the ice sheet margin, each time doubling between the stations. At the two lower sites, we estimate that radiation penetration causes 20–30% of the ice melt to occur below the surface.