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Refreezing of meltwater in firn is a major component of Greenland ice-sheet's mass budget, but in situ observations are rare. Here, we compare the firn density and total ice layer thickness in the upper 15 m of 19 new and 27 previously published firn cores drilled at 15 locations in southwest Greenland (1850–2360 m a.s.l.) between 1989 and 2019. At all sites, ice layer thickness covaries with density over time and space. At the two sites with the earliest observations (1989 and 1998), bulk density increased by 15–18%, in the top 15 m over 28 and 21 years, respectively. However, following the extreme melt in 2012, elevation-detrended density using 30 cores from all sites decreased by 15 kg m−3 a−1 in the top 3.75 m between 2013 and 2019. In contrast, the lowest elevation site's density shows no trend. Thus, temporary build-up in firn pore space and meltwater infiltration capacity is possible despite the long-term increase in Greenland ice-sheet melting.
We present in situ firn temperatures from the extreme 2012 melt season in the southwestern lower accumulation area of the Greenland ice sheet. The upper 2.5 m of snow and firn was temperate during the melt season, when vertical meltwater percolation was inefficient due to a ~5.5 m thick ice layer underlying the temperate firn. Meltwater percolation and refreezing beneath 2.5 m depth only occurred after the melt season. Deviations from temperatures predicted by pure conductivity suggest that meltwater refroze in discrete bands at depths of 2.0–2.5, 5.0–6.0 and 8.0–9.0 m. While we find no indication of meltwater percolation below 9 m depth or complete filling of pore volume above, firn at 10 and 15 m depth was respectively 4.2–4.5°C and 1.7°C higher than in a conductivity-only simulation. Even though meltwater percolation in 2012 was inefficient, firn between 2 and 15 m depth the following winter was on average 4.7°C warmer due to meltwater refreezing. Our observations also suggest that the 2012 firn conditions were preconditioned by two warm summers and ice layer formation in 2010 and 2011. Overall, firn temperatures during the years 2009–13 increased by 0.6°C.
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