Articles | Volume 9, issue 5
Research article
22 Sep 2015
Research article |  | 22 Sep 2015

Ice sheet mass loss caused by dust and black carbon accumulation

T. Goelles, C. E. Bøggild, and R. Greve

Abstract. Albedo is the dominant factor governing surface melt variability in the ablation area of ice sheets and glaciers. Aerosols such as mineral dust and black carbon (soot) accumulate on the ice surface and cause a darker surface and therefore a lower albedo. The darkening effect on the ice surface is currently not included in sea level projections, and the effect is unknown. We present a model framework which includes ice dynamics, aerosol transport, aerosol accumulation and the darkening effect on ice albedo and its consequences for surface melt. The model is applied to a simplified geometry resembling the conditions of the Greenland ice sheet, and it is forced by several temperature scenarios to quantify the darkening effect of aerosols on future mass loss. The effect of aerosols depends non-linearly on the temperature rise due to the feedback between aerosol accumulation and surface melt. According to our conceptual model, accounting for black carbon and dust in future projections of ice sheet changes until the year 3000 could induce an additional volume loss of 7 %. Since we have ignored some feedback processes, the impact might be even larger.

Short summary
Soot (black carbon) and dust particles darken the surface of ice sheets and glaciers as they accumulate. This causes more ice to melt, which releases more particles from within the ice. This positive feedback mechanism is studied with a new two-dimensional model, mimicking the conditions of Greenland, under different climate warming scenarios. In the warmest scenario, the additional ice sheet mass loss until the year 3000 is up to 7%.