Reassessment of Net Surface Mass Balance in Antarctica

David G. Vaughan British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, Cambridge, United Kingdom

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Jonathan L. Bamber Department of Geography, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom

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Mario Giovinetto Department of Geography, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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Jonathan Russell Jesus College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom

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A. Paul R. Cooper British Antarctic Survey, National Environment Research Council, Cambridge, United Kingdom

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Abstract

Recent in situ measurements of surface mass balance and improved calculation techniques are used to produce an updated assessment of net surface mass balance over Antarctica. A new elevation model of Antarctica derived from ERS-1 satellite altimetry supplemented with conventional data was used to delineate the ice flow drainage basins across Antarctica. The areas of these basins were calculated using the recent digital descriptions of coastlines and grounding lines. The delineation of drainage basins was achieved using an automatic procedure, which gave similar results to earlier hand-drawn catchment basins. More than 1800 published and unpublished in situ measurements of net surface mass balance from Antarctica were collated and then interpolated. A net surface mass balance map was derived from passive microwave satellite data, being employed as a forcing field to control the interpolation of the sparse in situ observations. Basinwide integrals of net surface mass balance were calculated using tools available within a geographic information system. It is found that the integrated net surface mass balance over the conterminous grounded ice sheet is 1811 Gton yr−1 (149 kg m−2 yr−1), and over the entire continent (including ice shelves and their embedded ice rises) it is 2288 Gton yr−1 (166 kg m−2 yr−1). These values are around 18% and 7% higher than the estimates widely adopted at present. The uncertainty in these values is hard to estimate from the methodology alone, but the progression of estimates from early studies to the present suggests that around ±5% uncertainty remains in the overall values. The results serve to confirm the great uncertainty in the overall contribution of the Antarctic Ice Sheet to recent and future global sea level rise even without a substantial collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Corresponding author address: Dr. David G. Vaughan, British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 OET, United Kingdom.

Email: d.vaughan@bas.ac.uk

Abstract

Recent in situ measurements of surface mass balance and improved calculation techniques are used to produce an updated assessment of net surface mass balance over Antarctica. A new elevation model of Antarctica derived from ERS-1 satellite altimetry supplemented with conventional data was used to delineate the ice flow drainage basins across Antarctica. The areas of these basins were calculated using the recent digital descriptions of coastlines and grounding lines. The delineation of drainage basins was achieved using an automatic procedure, which gave similar results to earlier hand-drawn catchment basins. More than 1800 published and unpublished in situ measurements of net surface mass balance from Antarctica were collated and then interpolated. A net surface mass balance map was derived from passive microwave satellite data, being employed as a forcing field to control the interpolation of the sparse in situ observations. Basinwide integrals of net surface mass balance were calculated using tools available within a geographic information system. It is found that the integrated net surface mass balance over the conterminous grounded ice sheet is 1811 Gton yr−1 (149 kg m−2 yr−1), and over the entire continent (including ice shelves and their embedded ice rises) it is 2288 Gton yr−1 (166 kg m−2 yr−1). These values are around 18% and 7% higher than the estimates widely adopted at present. The uncertainty in these values is hard to estimate from the methodology alone, but the progression of estimates from early studies to the present suggests that around ±5% uncertainty remains in the overall values. The results serve to confirm the great uncertainty in the overall contribution of the Antarctic Ice Sheet to recent and future global sea level rise even without a substantial collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Corresponding author address: Dr. David G. Vaughan, British Antarctic Survey, Natural Environment Research Council, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 OET, United Kingdom.

Email: d.vaughan@bas.ac.uk

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