Articles | Volume 5, issue 2
The Cryosphere, 5, 359–375, 2011

Special issue: Ice2sea – estimating the future contribution of continental...

The Cryosphere, 5, 359–375, 2011

Research article 05 May 2011

Research article | 05 May 2011

Melting trends over the Greenland ice sheet (1958–2009) from spaceborne microwave data and regional climate models

X. Fettweis1,3, M. Tedesco2, M. van den Broeke3, and J. Ettema3 X. Fettweis et al.
  • 1Département de Géographie, Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium
  • 2City College of New York, City University of New York, New York, NY, 10031, USA
  • 3Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Abstract. To study near-surface melt changes over the Greenland ice sheet (GrIS) since 1979, melt extent estimates from two regional climate models were compared with those obtained from spaceborne microwave brightness temperatures using two different remote sensing algorithms. The results from the two models were consistent with those obtained with the remote sensing algorithms at both daily and yearly time scales, encouraging the use of the models for analyzing melting trends before the satellite era (1958–1979), when forcing data is available. Differences between satellite-derived and model-simulated results still occur and are used here to identify (i) biases in the snow models (notably in the albedo parametrization, in the thickness of a snow layer, in the maximum liquid water content within the snowpack and in the snowfall impacting the bare ice appearance in summer) and (ii) limitations in the use of passive microwave data for snowmelt detection at the edge of the ice sheet due to mixed pixel effect (e.g., tundra or rock nearby the ice sheet). The results from models and spaceborne microwave sensors confirm a significant (p-value = 0.01) increase in GrIS surface melting since 1979. The melt extent recorded over the last years (1998, 2003, 2005 and 2007) is unprecedented in the last 50 yr with the cumulated melt area in the 2000's being, on the average, twice that of the 1980's.