A daily time series of ‘clear-sky’ surface temperature has been compiled of the Greenland ice sheet (GIS) using 1 km resolution moderate-resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) land-surface temperature (LST) maps from 2000 to 2006. We also used mass-concentration data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) to study mass change in relationship to surface melt from 2003 to 2006. The mean LST of the GIS increased during the study period by ∼0.27°C a−1. The increase was especially notable in the northern half of the ice sheet during the winter months. Melt-season length and timing were also studied in each of the six major drainage basins. Rapid (<15 days) and sustained mass loss below 2000 m elevation was triggered in 2004 and 2005 as recorded by GRACE when surface melt begins. Initiation of large-scale surface melt was followed rapidly by mass loss. This indicates that surface meltwater is flowing rapidly to the base of the ice sheet, causing acceleration of outlet glaciers, thus highlighting the metastability of parts of the GIS and the vulnerability of the ice sheet to air-temperature increases. If air temperatures continue to rise over Greenland, increased surface melt will play a large role in ice-sheet mass loss.