Journal cover Journal topic
The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
The Cryosphere, 9, 2009-2025, 2015
© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Research article
02 Nov 2015
Elevation change of the Greenland Ice Sheet due to surface mass balance and firn processes, 1960–2014
P. Kuipers Munneke1,2, S. R. M. Ligtenberg1, B. P. Y. Noël1, I. M. Howat3, J. E. Box4, E. Mosley-Thompson3,5, J. R. McConnell6, K. Steffen7, J. T. Harper8, S. B. Das9, and M. R. van den Broeke1 1Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
2Department of Geography, College of Science, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2 8PP, UK
3Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, Ohio State University, Ohio, USA
4Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), 1350 Copenhagen, Denmark
5Department of Geography, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA
6Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada, USA
7Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Zürcherstrasse 111, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland
8Department of Geosciences, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA
9Department of Geology and Geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA
Abstract. Observed changes in the surface elevation of the Greenland Ice Sheet are caused by ice dynamics, basal elevation change, basal melt, surface mass balance (SMB) variability, and by compaction of the overlying firn. The last two contributions are quantified here using a firn model that includes compaction, meltwater percolation, and refreezing. The model is forced with surface mass fluxes and temperature from a regional climate model for the period 1960–2014. The model results agree with observations of surface density, density profiles from 62 firn cores, and altimetric observations from regions where ice-dynamical surface height changes are likely small. In areas with strong surface melt, the firn model overestimates density. We find that the firn layer in the high interior is generally thickening slowly (1–5 cm yr−1). In the percolation and ablation areas, firn and SMB processes account for a surface elevation lowering of up to 20–50 cm yr−1. Most of this firn-induced marginal thinning is caused by an increase in melt since the mid-1990s and partly compensated by an increase in the accumulation of fresh snow around most of the ice sheet. The total firn and ice volume change between 1980 and 2014 is estimated at −3295 ± 1030 km3 due to firn and SMB changes, corresponding to an ice-sheet average thinning of 1.96 ± 0.61 m. Most of this volume decrease occurred after 1995. The computed changes in surface elevation can be used to partition altimetrically observed volume change into surface mass balance and ice-dynamically related mass changes.

Citation: Kuipers Munneke, P., Ligtenberg, S. R. M., Noël, B. P. Y., Howat, I. M., Box, J. E., Mosley-Thompson, E., McConnell, J. R., Steffen, K., Harper, J. T., Das, S. B., and van den Broeke, M. R.: Elevation change of the Greenland Ice Sheet due to surface mass balance and firn processes, 1960–2014, The Cryosphere, 9, 2009-2025,, 2015.
Publications Copernicus
Short summary
The snow layer on top of the Greenland Ice Sheet is changing: it is thickening in the high and cold interior due to increased snowfall, while it is thinning around the margins. The marginal thinning is caused by compaction, and by more melt. This knowledge is important: there are satellites that measure volume change of the ice sheet. It can be caused by increased ice discharge, or by compaction of the snow layer. Here, we quantify the latter, so that we can translate volume to mass change.
The snow layer on top of the Greenland Ice Sheet is changing: it is thickening in the high and...