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Determining Greenland Ice Sheet sensitivity to regional climate change: one-way coupling of a 3-D thermo-mechanical ice sheet model with a mesoscale climate model

  • Author(s): Schlegel, Nicole-Jeanne
  • Advisor(s): Cuffey, Kurt M
  • et al.

The Greenland Ice Sheet, which extends south of the Arctic Circle, is vulnerable to melt in a warming climate. Complete melt of the ice sheet would raise global sea level by about 7 meters. Prediction of how the ice sheet will react to climate change requires inputs with a high degree of spatial resolution and improved simulation of the ice-dynamical responses to evolving surface mass balance. No Greenland Ice Sheet model has yet met these requirements.

A three-dimensional thermo-mechanical ice sheet model of Greenland was enhanced to address these challenges. First, it was modified to accept high-resolution surface mass balance forcings. Second, a parameterization for basal drainage (of the sort responsible for sustaining the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream) was incorporated into the model. The enhanced model was used to investigate the century to millennial-scale evolution of the Greenland Ice Sheet in response to persistent climate trends. During initial experiments, the mechanism of flow in the outlet glaciers was assumed to be independent of climate change, and the outlet glaciers' dominant behavior was to counteract changes in surface mass balance. Around much of the ice sheet, warming resulted in calving front retreat and reduction of total ice sheet discharge.

Observations show, however, that the character of outlet glacier flow changes with the climate. The ice sheet model was further developed to simulate observed dynamical responses of Greenland's outlet glaciers. A phenomenological description of the relation between outlet glacier discharge and surface mass balance was calibrated against recent observations. This model was used to investigate the ice sheet's response to a hypothesized 21st century warming trend. Enhanced discharge accounted for a 60% increase in Greenland mass loss, resulting in a net sea level increment of 7.3 cm by year 2100. By this time, the average surface mass balance had become negative, and widespread marginal thinning had caused 30% of historically active calving fronts to retreat. Mass losses persisted throughout the century due to flow of dynamically responsive outlets capable of sustaining high calving rates. Thinning in these areas propagated upstream into higher elevation catchments. Large drainage basins with low-lying outlets, especially those along Greenland's west coast and those fed by the Northeast Greenland Ice Stream, were most susceptible to dynamic mass loss in the 21st century

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