Analysis of the surface mass balance for deglacial climate simulations

Kapsch, Marie-Luise; Mikolajewicz, Uwe; Ziemen, Florian A.; Rodehacke, Christian B.; Schannwell, Clemens

A realistic simulation of the surface mass balance (SMB) is essential for simulating past and future ice-sheet changes. As most state-of-the-art Earth system models (ESMs) are not capable of realistically representing processes determining the SMB, most studies of the SMB are limited to observations and regional climate models and cover the last century and near future only. Using transient simulations with the Max Planck Institute ESM in combination with an energy balance model (EBM), we extend previous research and study changes in the SMB and equilibrium line altitude (ELA) for the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets throughout the last deglaciation. The EBM is used to calculate and downscale the SMB onto a higher spatial resolution than the native ESM grid and allows for the resolution of SMB variations due to topographic gradients not resolved by the ESM. An evaluation for historical climate conditions (1980–2010) shows that derived SMBs compare well with SMBs from regional modeling. Throughout the deglaciation, changes in insolation dominate the Greenland SMB. The increase in insolation and associated warming early in the deglaciation result in an ELA and SMB increase. The SMB increase is caused by compensating effects of melt and accumulation: the warming of the atmosphere leads to an increase in melt at low elevations along the ice-sheet margins, while it results in an increase in accumulation at higher levels as a warmer atmosphere precipitates more. After 13 ka, the increase in melt begins to dominate, and the SMB decreases. The decline in Northern Hemisphere summer insolation after 9 ka leads to an increasing SMB and decreasing ELA. Superimposed on these long-term changes are centennial-scale episodes of abrupt SMB and ELA decreases related to slowdowns of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) that lead to a cooling over most of the Northern Hemisphere.

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Kapsch, Marie-Luise / Mikolajewicz, Uwe / Ziemen, Florian A. / et al: Analysis of the surface mass balance for deglacial climate simulations. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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