Research ArticleCLIMATOLOGY

Greenland Ice Sheet surface melt amplified by snowline migration and bare ice exposure

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Science Advances  06 Mar 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 3, eaav3738
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav3738


Greenland Ice Sheet mass loss has recently increased because of enhanced surface melt and runoff. Since melt is critically modulated by surface albedo, understanding the processes and feedbacks that alter albedo is a prerequisite for accurately forecasting mass loss. Using satellite imagery, we demonstrate the importance of Greenland’s seasonally fluctuating snowline, which reduces ice sheet albedo and enhances melt by exposing dark bare ice. From 2001 to 2017, this process drove 53% of net shortwave radiation variability in the ablation zone and amplified ice sheet melt five times more than hydrological and biological processes that darken bare ice itself. In a warmer climate, snowline fluctuations will exert an even greater control on melt due to flatter ice sheet topography at higher elevations. Current climate models, however, inaccurately predict snowline elevations during high melt years, portending an unforeseen uncertainty in forecasts of Greenland’s runoff contribution to global sea level rise.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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