Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling

Ice sheet climate modeling: past achievements, ongoing challenges, and future endeavors (Invited)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017 - 08:00
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Fluctuations in surface mass balance (SMB) mask out a substantial portion of contemporary Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet mass loss. That implies that we need accurate, consistent, and long-term SMB time series to isolate the mass loss signal. This in turn requires understanding of the processes driving SMB, and how they interplay. The primary controls on present-day ice sheet SMB are snowfall, which is regulated by large-scale atmospheric variability, and surface meltwater production at the ice sheet’s edges, which is a complex result of atmosphere-surface interactions. Additionally, wind-driven snow redistribution and sublimation are large SMB contributors on the downslope areas of the ice sheets.

Climate models provide an integrated framework to simulate all these individual ice sheet components. Recent developments in RACMO2, a regional climate model bound by atmospheric reanalyses, have focused on enhancing horizontal resolution, including blowing snow, snow albedo, and meltwater processes. Including these physics not only enhanced our understanding of the ice sheet climate system, but also enabled to obtain increasingly accurate estimates of ice sheet SMB.

However, regional models are not suitable to capture the mutual interactions between ice sheet and the remainder of the global climate system in transient climates. To take that next step, global climate models are essential. In this talk, I will highlight our present work on improving ice sheet climate in the Community Earth System Model (CESM). In particular, we focus on an improved representation of polar firn, ice sheet clouds, and precipitation. For this exercise, we extensively use field observations, remote sensing data, as well as RACMO2. Next, I will highlight how CESM is used to enhance our understanding of ice sheet SMB, its drivers, and past and present changes.

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