The freshwater budget of the Arctic and sub-polar North Atlantic Oceans has been changing due, primarily, to increased river runoff, declining sea ice and enhanced melting of Arctic land ice. Since the mid-1990s this latter component has experienced a pronounced increase. We use a combination of satellite observations of glacier flow speed and regional climate modeling to reconstruct the land ice freshwater flux from the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic glaciers and ice caps for the period 1958-2016. The cumulative freshwater flux anomaly exceeded 6,300?±?316 km3 by 2016. This is roughly twice the estimate of a previous analysis that did not include glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and which extended only to 2010. From 2010 onward, the total freshwater flux is about 1,300 km3/yr, equivalent to 0.04 Sv, which is roughly 40% of the estimated total runoff to the Arctic for the same time period. Not all of this flux will reach areas of deep convection or Arctic and Sub-Arctic seas. We note, however, that the largest freshwater flux anomalies, grouped by ocean basin, are located in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait. The land ice freshwater flux displays a strong seasonal cycle with summer time values typically around five times larger than the annual mean. This will be important for understanding the impact of these fluxes on fjord circulation, stratification, and the biogeochemistry of, and nutrient delivery to, coastal waters.
Cites: Nature. 2011 May 19;473(7347):357-60 PMID 21508960
Cites: Science. 2012 May 4;336(6081):576-8 PMID 22556249
Cites: Geophys Res Lett. 2017 Nov 16;44(21):11051-11061 PMID 29263561
Cites: Nat Commun. 2016 Jan 22;7:10525 PMID 26796579
Cites: Nature. 2015 Dec 17;528(7582):396-400 PMID 26672555
Cites: Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci. 2015 Oct 13;373(2052):null PMID 26347536
Cites: Science. 2006 Aug 25;313(5790):1061-6 PMID 16931747
Cites: Nature. 2009 Dec 24;462(7276):1044-7 PMID 20033045
Cites: Nature. 2013 Dec 5;504(7478):36-43 PMID 24305146
Cites: Science. 2009 Nov 13;326(5955):984-6 PMID 19965509
Compared to other Arctic ice masses, Svalbard glaciers are low-elevated with flat interior accumulation areas, resulting in a marked peak in their current hypsometry (area-elevation distribution) at ~450?m above sea level. Since summer melt consistently exceeds winter snowfall, these low-lying glaciers can only survive by refreezing a considerable fraction of surface melt and rain in the porous firn layer covering their accumulation zones. We use a high-resolution climate model to show that modest atmospheric warming in the mid-1980s forced the firn zone to retreat upward by ~100 m to coincide with the hypsometry peak. This led to a rapid areal reduction of firn cover available for refreezing, and strongly increased runoff from dark, bare ice areas, amplifying mass loss from all elevations. As the firn line fluctuates around the hypsometry peak in the current climate, Svalbard glaciers will continue to lose mass and show high sensitivity to temperature perturbations.
In recent decades, meltwater runoff has accelerated to become the dominant mechanism for mass loss in the Greenland ice sheet1-3. In Greenland's high-elevation interior, porous snow and firn accumulate; these can absorb surface meltwater and inhibit runoff4, but this buffering effect is limited if enough water refreezes near the surface to restrict percolation5,6. However, the influence of refreezing on runoff from Greenland remains largely unquantified. Here we use firn cores, radar observations and regional climate models to show that recent increases in meltwater have resulted in the formation of metres-thick, low-permeability 'ice slabs' that have expanded the Greenland ice sheet's total runoff area by 26 ± 3 per cent since 2001. Although runoff from the top of ice slabs has added less than one millimetre to global sea-level rise so far, this contribution will grow substantially as ice slabs expand inland in a warming climate. Runoff over ice slabs is set to contribute 7 to 33 millimetres and 17 to 74 millimetres to global sea-level rise by 2100 under moderate- and high-emissions scenarios, respectively-approximately double the estimated runoff from Greenland's high-elevation interior, as predicted by surface mass balance models without ice slabs. Ice slabs will have an important role in enhancing surface meltwater feedback processes, fundamentally altering the ice sheet's present and future hydrology.
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is an important component of ocean thermohaline circulation. Melting of Greenland's ice sheet is freshening the North Atlantic; however, whether the augmented freshwater flux is disrupting the AMOC is unclear. Dense Labrador Sea Water (LSW), formed by winter cooling of saline North Atlantic water and subsequent convection, is a key component of the deep southward return flow of the AMOC. Although LSW formation recently decreased, it also reached historically high values in the mid-1990s, making the connection to the freshwater flux unclear. Here we derive a new estimate of the recent freshwater flux from Greenland using updated GRACE satellite data, present new flux estimates for heat and salt from the North Atlantic into the Labrador Sea and explain recent variations in LSW formation. We suggest that changes in LSW can be directly linked to recent freshening, and suggest a possible link to AMOC weakening.