The importance of snow albedo for ice sheet evolution over the last glacial cycle

Willeit, Matteo; Ganopolski, Andrey

The surface energy and mass balance of ice sheets strongly depends on the amount of solar radiation absorbed at the surface, which is mainly controlled by the albedo of snow and ice. Here, using an Earth system model of intermediate complexity, we explore the role played by surface albedo for the simulation of glacial cycles. We show that the evolution of the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets over the last glacial cycle is very sensitive to the representation of snow albedo in the model. It is well known that the albedo of snow depends strongly on snow grain size and the content of light-absorbing impurities. Excluding either the snow aging effect or the dust darkening effect on snow albedo leads to an excessive ice build-up during glacial times and consequently to a failure in simulating deglaciation. While the effect of snow grain growth on snow albedo is well constrained, the albedo reduction due to the presence of dust in snow is much more uncertain because the light-absorbing properties of dust vary widely as a function of dust mineral composition. We also show that assuming slightly different optical properties of dust leads to very different ice sheet and climate evolutions in the model. Conversely, ice sheet evolution is less sensitive to the choice of ice albedo in the model. We conclude that a proper representation of snow albedo is a fundamental prerequisite for a successful simulation of glacial cycles.



Willeit, Matteo / Ganopolski, Andrey: The importance of snow albedo for ice sheet evolution over the last glacial cycle. 2018. Copernicus Publications.


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