21 Feb 2023
 | 21 Feb 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Cloud- and ice-albedo feedbacks drive greater Greenland ice sheet sensitivity to warming in CMIP6 than in CMIP5

Idunn Aamnes Mostue, Stefan Hofer, Trude Storelvmo, and Xavier Fettweis

Abstract. The Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) has been losing mass since the 1990s as a direct consequence of rising temperatures and has been projected to continue to lose mass at an accelerating pace throughout the 21st century, making it one of the largest contributors to future sea-level rise. The latest Climate Model Intercomparison Project 6th phase (CMIP6) models produce a greater Arctic amplification signal and therefore also a notably larger mass loss from the GrIS when compared to the older CMIP5 projections, despite similar forcing levels from greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is also argued that the strength of regional factors such as melt-albedo feedbacks and cloud-related feedbacks will partly impact future melt and sea-level rise contribution, but little is yet known about the role of these regional factors in differences in GrIS surface melt projections between CMIP6 to CMIP5. In this study, we use high-resolution (15 km) regional climate model simulations over the GrIS performed using the Modéle Atmosphériqe Régional (MAR) to physically downscale six CMIP5 RCP8.5 and five CMIP6 SSP5-8.5 extreme high-emission scenario simulations. Here, we show a greater annual mass loss from the GrIS at the end of the 21st century, but also for a given temperature increase over the GrIS, when comparing CMIP6 to CMIP5. We find a greater sensitivity of Greenland surface mass loss in CMIP6 centred around summer and autumn, yet the difference in mass loss is largest during autumn with a reduction of 14.1 ± 4.8 mmWE for a regional warming of +6.7 °C, 12.5 mmWE more mass loss than in CMIP5 RCP8.5 simulations for the same warming. Assessment of the surface energy budget and cloud-related feedbacks suggests a reduction in high clouds during summer and autumn – in addition to enhanced cloud optical depth during autumn – to be the main drivers of the additional energy reaching the surface, subsequently leading to enhanced surface melt and mass loss in CMIP6 compared to CMIP5. Our analysis highlights that Greenland is losing more mass in CMIP6 due to two factors; 1) a (known) greater sensitivity to greenhouse gas emissions and therefore warmer temperatures, 2) previously undocumented cloud-related surface energy budget changes that enhance the GrIS sensitivity to warming.

Idunn Aamnes Mostue et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on tc-2023-24', Anonymous Referee #1, 23 Mar 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on tc-2023-24', Anonymous Referee #2, 17 May 2023

Idunn Aamnes Mostue et al.

Idunn Aamnes Mostue et al.


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Short summary
The latest generation of climate models (CMIP6) warm more over Greenland and the Arctic and thus also project a larger mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS), compared to the previous generation of climate models (CMIP5). Our work suggests for the first time that parts of the greater mass loss in CMIP6 over the GrIS is driven by a difference in the surface mass balance sensitivity, from a change in cloud representation in the CMIP6 models.