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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  27 Jan 2020

27 Jan 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Annual and interannual variability and trends of albedo for Icelandic glaciers

Andri Gunnarsson1,4, Sigurdur M. Gardarsson1, Finnur Pálsson2, Tómas Jóhannesson3, and Óli G. B. Sveinsson4 Andri Gunnarsson et al.
  • 1University of Iceland, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Hjardarhagi 2-6, 107 Reykjavik, Iceland
  • 2Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland, Sturlugata 7, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland
  • 3Icelandic Meteorological Office, Bústaðavegi 7–9, 180, Reykjavík, Iceland
  • 4Landsvirkjun, Department of Research and Development, Reykjavík, 107, Iceland

Abstract. During the melt season, absorbed solar energy, modulated at the surface predominantly by albedo, is the governing factor controlling surface-melt variability for glaciers in Iceland. Using MODIS satellite-derived daily surface albedo, a gap-filled temporally continuous albedo product is derived for the melt season (MJJA) for the period 2000–2019. The albedo data are thoroughly validated against available in-situ observations from 20 glacier automatic weather stations for the period 2000–2018. The results show that spatio-temporal patterns for the melt season have generally high annual and inter-annual variability for Icelandic glaciers, ranging from high fresh-snow albedo of about 85–90 % in spring, decreasing to 5–10 % in the impurity-rich bare-ice area during peak melt season. The analysis shows that the volcanic eruptions in 2010 and 2011 had significant impact on albedo and also had a residual effect in the following years. Furthermore, airborne dust, from unstable sandy surfaces close to the glaciers, is shown to enhance radiative forcing and decrease albedo. A significant positive albedo trend is observed for northern Vatnajökull while other glaciers have non-significant trends for the study period. The results indicate that the high variability in albedo for Icelandic glaciers is driven by climatology, i.e. snow metamorphosis; tephra fall-out during volcanic eruptions and their residual effects in the post-eruption years; and dust loading from widespread unstable sandy surfaces outside the glaciers. This illustrates the challenges in albedo parametrization for glacier surface-melt modelling for Icelandic glaciers as albedo development is driven by various complex phenomena, which may not be correctly captured in conventional energy-balance models.

Andri Gunnarsson et al.

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Andri Gunnarsson et al.

Andri Gunnarsson et al.


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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Surface albedo quantifies the fraction of the sunlight reflected by the surface of the Earth. During the melt season in the Northern Hemisphere solar energy absorbed by snow- and ice-covered surfaces is mainly controlled by surface albedo. For Icelandic glaciers, air temperature and surface albedo are the dominating factors governing annual variability of glacier surface melt. Satellite data from the MODIS sensor is used to create a dataset spanning the glacier melt season to further quantifies.
Surface albedo quantifies the fraction of the sunlight reflected by the surface of the Earth....