Changing Surface-Atmosphere Energy Exchange and Refreezing Capacity of the Lower Accumulation Area, West Greenland

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Charalampos Charalampidis1,2, Dirk van As1, Horst Machguth1,3, Paul Smeets4, Michiel R van den Broeke4 and Jason E Box1, (1)Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Copenhagen, Denmark, (2)Uppsala University, Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden, (3)Technological University of Denmark, Arctic Technology Centre, Lyngby, Denmark, (4)Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht, Utrecht, Netherlands
We present five years (2009–2013) of automatic weather station (AWS) data from the lower accumulation area (1840 m above sea level) of the Kangerlussuaq region, western Greenland ice sheet. The summers of 2010 and 2012 were both exceptionally warm, but only 2012 resulted in negative surface mass budget (SMB) and surface runoff. The observed runoff was due to a large ice fraction in the upper 10 m of firn that prevented melt water from percolating to available pore space below. Analysis of the in situ data reveals a relatively low 2012 summer albedo of ~0.7 as melt water was present at the surface. Consequently, during the 2012 melt season the surface absorbed 30% (213 MJ m–2) more solar radiation than in 2010.

We drive a surface energy balance model with the AWS data to evaluate the seasonal and interannual variability of all surface energy fluxes. The model is able to reproduce the observed melt rates as well as the SMB for each season. While the drive for melt is solar radiation, year-to-year differences are controlled by terrestrial radiation, apart from 2012 when solar radiation dominated melt. Sensitivity tests reveal that 72% of the excess solar energy in 2012 was used for melt, corresponding to 40% (0.67 m) of the 2012 surface ablation. The remaining ablation (0.99 m) was primarily due to the relatively high atmospheric temperatures up to +2.6 °C daily average, indicating that 2012 would have been a negative SMB year in the lower accumulation area even without the melt-albedo feedback.

Longer time series of SMB, regional temperature and remotely sensed albedo (MODIS) suggest that 2012 was the first negative SMB year with the lowest albedo at this elevation on record. The warming conditions of the last years resulted in enhanced melt and reduction of the refreezing capacity of the lower accumulation area. If the warming continues the lower accumulation area will be transformed into superimposed ice.