Articles | Volume 6, issue 6
The Cryosphere, 6, 1275–1294, 2012

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

The Cryosphere, 6, 1275–1294, 2012

Research article 09 Nov 2012

Research article | 09 Nov 2012

Greenland ice sheet surface mass balance: evaluating simulations and making projections with regional climate models

J. G. L. Rae1, G. Aðalgeirsdóttir2,*, T. L. Edwards3, X. Fettweis4, J. M. Gregory5,1, H. T. Hewitt1, J. A. Lowe1, P. Lucas-Picher2,**, R. H. Mottram2, A. J. Payne3, J. K. Ridley1, S. R. Shannon3, W. J. van de Berg6, R. S. W. van de Wal6, and M. R. van den Broeke6 J. G. L. Rae et al.
  • 1Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, United Kingdom
  • 2Danish Meteorological Institute, Lyngbyvej 100, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 3School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, University Road, Bristol, BS8 1SS, United Kingdom
  • 4Department of Geography, University of Liège, 2, Allée du 6 Août, Bat. B11, 4000 Liège, Belgium
  • 5Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, PO Box 243, Reading, RG6 6BB, United Kingdom
  • 6Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80005, 3508 TA Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • *currently at: Institute of Earth Sciences, Sturlugata 7, Askja, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
  • **currently at: Rossby Centre, SMHI, Folkborgsvägen 1, S-601 76 Norrköping, Sweden

Abstract. Four high-resolution regional climate models (RCMs) have been set up for the area of Greenland, with the aim of providing future projections of Greenland ice sheet surface mass balance (SMB), and its contribution to sea level rise, with greater accuracy than is possible from coarser-resolution general circulation models (GCMs). This is the first time an intercomparison has been carried out of RCM results for Greenland climate and SMB. Output from RCM simulations for the recent past with the four RCMs is evaluated against available observations. The evaluation highlights the importance of using a detailed snow physics scheme, especially regarding the representations of albedo and meltwater refreezing. Simulations with three of the RCMs for the 21st century using SRES scenario A1B from two GCMs produce trends of between −5.5 and −1.1 Gt yr−2 in SMB (equivalent to +0.015 and +0.003 mm sea level equivalent yr−2), with trends of smaller magnitude for scenario E1, in which emissions are mitigated. Results from one of the RCMs whose present-day simulation is most realistic indicate that an annual mean near-surface air temperature increase over Greenland of ~ 2°C would be required for the mass loss to increase such that it exceeds accumulation, thereby causing the SMB to become negative, which has been suggested as a threshold beyond which the ice sheet would eventually be eliminated.