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Increased Runoff from Melt from the Greenland Ice Sheet: A Response to Global Warming

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  • * Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom
  • | + Departement Geografie, Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, Belgium
  • | # Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado
  • | @ Danish Meteorological Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • | & NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • | ** Corporate Information and Computing Services, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom
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Abstract

The authors attribute significantly increased Greenland summer warmth and Greenland Ice Sheet melt and runoff since 1990 to global warming. Southern Greenland coastal and Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures were uncorrelated between the 1960s and early 1990s but were significantly positively correlated thereafter. This relationship appears to have been modulated by the North Atlantic Oscillation, whose summer index was significantly (negatively) correlated with southern Greenland summer temperatures until the early 1990s but not thereafter. Significant warming in southern Greenland since ∼1990, as also evidenced from Swiss Camp on the west flank of the ice sheet, therefore reflects general Northern Hemisphere and global warming. Summer 2003 was the warmest since at least 1958 in coastal southern Greenland. The second warmest coastal summer 2005 had the most extensive anomalously warm conditions over the ablation zone of the ice sheet, which caused a record melt extent. The year 2006 was the third warmest in coastal southern Greenland and had the third-highest modeled runoff in the last 49 yr from the ice sheet; five of the nine highest runoff years occurred since 2001 inclusive. Significantly rising runoff since 1958 was largely compensated by increased precipitation and snow accumulation. Also, as observed since 1987 in a single composite record at Summit, summer temperatures near the top of the ice sheet have declined slightly but not significantly, suggesting the overall ice sheet is experiencing a dichotomous response to the recent general warming: possible reasons include the ice sheet’s high thermal inertia, higher atmospheric cooling, or changes in regional wind, cloud, and/or radiation patterns.

Current affiliation: NASA Goddard Earth Science and Technology Center, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, Maryland

Corresponding author address: Edward Hanna, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Winter Street, Sheffield, S10 2TN, United Kingdom. Email: ehanna@sheffield.ac.uk

Abstract

The authors attribute significantly increased Greenland summer warmth and Greenland Ice Sheet melt and runoff since 1990 to global warming. Southern Greenland coastal and Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures were uncorrelated between the 1960s and early 1990s but were significantly positively correlated thereafter. This relationship appears to have been modulated by the North Atlantic Oscillation, whose summer index was significantly (negatively) correlated with southern Greenland summer temperatures until the early 1990s but not thereafter. Significant warming in southern Greenland since ∼1990, as also evidenced from Swiss Camp on the west flank of the ice sheet, therefore reflects general Northern Hemisphere and global warming. Summer 2003 was the warmest since at least 1958 in coastal southern Greenland. The second warmest coastal summer 2005 had the most extensive anomalously warm conditions over the ablation zone of the ice sheet, which caused a record melt extent. The year 2006 was the third warmest in coastal southern Greenland and had the third-highest modeled runoff in the last 49 yr from the ice sheet; five of the nine highest runoff years occurred since 2001 inclusive. Significantly rising runoff since 1958 was largely compensated by increased precipitation and snow accumulation. Also, as observed since 1987 in a single composite record at Summit, summer temperatures near the top of the ice sheet have declined slightly but not significantly, suggesting the overall ice sheet is experiencing a dichotomous response to the recent general warming: possible reasons include the ice sheet’s high thermal inertia, higher atmospheric cooling, or changes in regional wind, cloud, and/or radiation patterns.

Current affiliation: NASA Goddard Earth Science and Technology Center, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, Maryland

Corresponding author address: Edward Hanna, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Winter Street, Sheffield, S10 2TN, United Kingdom. Email: ehanna@sheffield.ac.uk

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