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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.

Submitted as: research article 02 Mar 2020

Submitted as: research article | 02 Mar 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

The firn meltwater Retention Model Intercomparison Project (RetMIP): Evaluation of nine firn models at four weather station sites on the Greenland ice sheet

Baptiste Vandecrux1,2, Ruth Mottram3, Peter L. Langen3, Robert S. Fausto1, Martin Olesen3, C. Max Stevens4, Vincent Verjans5, Amber Leeson5, Stefan Ligtenberg6, Peter Kuipers Munneke6, Sergey Marchenko7, Ward van Pelt7, Colin Meyer8, Sebastian B. Simonsen9, Achim Heilig10, Samira Samimi11, Horst Machguth12, Michael MacFerrin13, Masashi Niwano14, Olivia Miller15, Clifford I. Voss16, and Jason E. Box1 Baptiste Vandecrux et al.
  • 1Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 2Department of Civil Engineering, Technical University of Denmark, Lyngby, Denmark
  • 3Danish Meteorological Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • 4Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, WA USA
  • 5Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
  • 6IMAU, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
  • 7Department ofEarth Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
  • 8Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College
  • 9National Space Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark
  • 10Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, LMU, Munich, Germany
  • 11Department of Geography, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada
  • 12Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
  • 13Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA
  • 14Meteorological Research Institute, Japan Meteorological Agency, Tsukuba, 305-0052 Japan
  • 15U. S. Geological Survey, Utah Water Science Center, SaltLake City, UT, USA
  • 16U. S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA, USA

Abstract. Perennial snow, or firn, covers 80 % of the Greenland ice sheet and has the capacity to retain part of the surface meltwater, buffering the ice sheet’s contribution to sea level. Multi-layer firn models are traditionally used to simulate the firn processes and estimate meltwater retention. We present the output from nine firn models, forced by weather-station-derived mass and energy fluxes at four sites representative of the dry snow, percolation, ice slab and firn aquifer areas. We compare the model outputs and evaluate them against in situ observations. Models that explicitly account for deep meltwater percolation overestimate percolation depth and consequently firn temperature at the percolation and ice slab sites although they accurately simulate the recharge of the firn aquifer. Models using Darcy's law and a bucket scheme compare favourably to observations at the percolation site but only the Darcy models accurately simulate firn temperature and thus meltwater percolation at the ice slab site. We find that Eulerian models, that transfer firn through fixed layers, smooth sharp gradients in firn temperature and density over time. From the model spread, we find that simulated densities (respectively temperature) have an uncertainty envelope of ±60 kg m−3 (resp. ±14 °C) in the dry snow area and up to ±280 kg m−3 (resp. ±15–18 °C) at warmer sites.

Baptiste Vandecrux et al.

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Baptiste Vandecrux et al.

Baptiste Vandecrux et al.


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Latest update: 13 Jul 2020
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
In the vast interior of the Greenland ice sheet, snow accumulates into a thick and porous layer called firn. Each summer, the firn retains part of the meltwater generated at the surface and buffers sea level rise. In this study, we compare nine firn models, traditionally used to quantify this retention, at four sites and evaluate their performance against a set of in situ observations. We highlight limitations of certain model designs and give perspectives for future model development.
In the vast interior of the Greenland ice sheet, snow accumulates into a thick and porous layer...