Timing and origin of recent regional ice-mass loss in Greenland

Publication: Research - peer-reviewJournal article – Annual report year: 2012

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Within the last decade, the Greenland ice sheet (GrIS) and its surroundings have experienced record high surface temperatures (Mote, 2007; Box et al., 2010), ice sheet melt extent (Fettweis et al., 2011) and record-low summer sea-ice extent (Nghiem et al., 2007). Using three independent data sets, we derive, for the first time, consistent ice-mass trends and temporal variations within seven major drainage basins from gravity fields from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE; Tapley et al., 2004), surface-ice velocities from Inteferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR; Rignot and Kanagaratnam, 2006) together with output of the regional atmospheric climate modelling (RACMO2/GR; Ettema et al., 2009), and surface-elevation changes from the Ice, cloud and land elevation satellite (ICESat; Sørensen et al., 2011). We show that changing ice discharge (D), surface melting and subsequent run-off (M/R) and precipitation (P) all contribute, in a complex and regionally variable interplay, to the increasingly negative mass balance of the GrIS observed within the last decade. Interannual variability in P along the northwest and west coasts of the GrIS largely explains the apparent regional mass loss increase during 2002–2010, and obscures increasing M/R and D since the 1990s. In winter 2002/2003 and 2008/2009, accumulation anomalies in the east and southeast temporarily outweighed the losses by M/R and D that prevailed during 2003–2008, and after summer 2010. Overall, for all basins of the GrIS, the decadal variability of anomalies in P, M/R and D between 1958 and 2010 (w.r.t. 1961–1990) was significantly exceeded by the regional trends observed during the GRACE period (2002–2011).
Original languageEnglish
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication date2012
CitationsWeb of Science® Times Cited: 30


  • Mass balance, Greenland, GRACE, InSAR, RACMO, ICESat
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ID: 9594980