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