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Warming, glacier melt and surface energy budget from weather station observations in the Melville Bay region of northwest Greenland

  • Dirk Van AS (a1)

Abstract

The glaciers in the Melville Bay region of northwest Greenland have shown a mean retreat since the earliest observations at the beginning of the 20th century. The largest, Steenstrup Gletscher, has retreated ∼20 km, partly during the period of atmospheric cooling 1940–80. Melville Bay air-temperature observations starting in 1981 indicate a regional change of +0.20°C a−1. This exceeds the warming on the east coast of Greenland, confirming the west coast to be a region of relatively large change, also in a global perspective. The largest temperature increase is observed in the winter months (0.3–0.4°C a−1). Results from a 4 year (2004–08) net ablation record obtained by an automatic weather station (AWS) near the calving front of Steenstrup Gletscher show an ablation rate that is relatively low for a low-elevation position on the Greenland ice sheet (2.4 m ice equivalent per year). A first-order estimate from positive degree-day totals suggests that net ablation has roughly doubled since the 1980s. A surface energy and mass-balance model is applied to the Steenstrup AWS data to quantify the energy flux contributions to surface melt. Solar radiation is the main source for melt energy, but, due to shortwave radiation penetration into the ice, only one-third of the melt takes place at the glacier surface; nearly two-thirds occurs within the upper ice layers.

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