Articles | Volume 4, issue 2
Research article
29 Jun 2010
Research article |  | 29 Jun 2010

Runoff and mass-balance simulations from the Greenland Ice Sheet at Kangerlussuaq (Søndre Strømfjord) in a 30-year perspective, 1979–2008

S. H. Mernild, G. E. Liston, K. Steffen, M. van den Broeke, and B. Hasholt

Abstract. This study provides insights into surface mass-balance (SMB) and runoff exiting the Watson River drainage basin, Kangerlussuaq, West Greenland during a 30 year period (1978/1979–2007/2008) when the climate experienced increasing temperatures and precipitation. The 30-year simulations quantify the terrestrial freshwater output from part of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) and the land between the GrIS and the ocean, in the context of global warming and increasing GrIS surface melt. We used a snow-evolution modeling system (SnowModel) to simulate the winter accumulation and summer ablation processes, including runoff and SMB, of the ice sheet: indicating that the simulated equilibrium line altitude (ELA) was in accordance with independent observations. To a large extent, the SMB fluctuations could be explained by changes in net precipitation (precipitation minus evaporation and sublimation), with 8 out of 30 years having negative SMB, mainly because of relatively low annual net precipitation. The overall trend in net precipitation and runoff increased significantly, while SMB increased insignificantly throughout the simulation period, leading to enhanced precipitation of 0.59 km3 w.eq. (or ~60%), runoff of 0.43 km3 w.eq. (or ~55%), and SMB of 0.16 km3 w.eq. (or ~85%). Runoff rose on average from 0.80 km3 w.eq. in 1978/1979 to 1.23 km3 w.eq. in 2007/2008. The GrIS satellite-derived melt-extent increased significantly, and the melting intensification occurred simultaneously with the increase in local Kangerlussuaq runoff, indicating that satellite data can be used as a proxy (r2=0.64) for runoff from the Kangerlussuaq drainage area.