IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Mass Balance Sensitivity to Temperature and Precipitation

Since G&IC mass balance depends strongly on their altitude and aspect, use of data from climate models to make projections requires a method of downscaling, because individual G&IC are much smaller than typical AOGCM grid boxes. Statistical relations for meteorological quantities can be developed between the GCM and local scales (Reichert et al., 2002), but they may not continue to hold in future climates. Hence, for projections the approach usually adopted is to use GCM simulations of changes in climate parameters to perturb the observed climatology or mass balance (Gregory and Oerlemans, 1998; Schneeberger et al., 2003).

Change in ablation (mostly melting) of a glacier or ice cap is modelled using bT (in m yr–1 °C–1), the sensitivity of the mean specific surface mass balance to temperature (refer to Section 4.5 for a discussion of the relation of mass balance to climate). One approach determines bT by energy balance modelling, including evolution of albedo and refreezing of melt water within the firn (Zuo and Oerlemans, 1997). Oerlemans and Reichert (2000), Oerlemans (2001) and Oerlemans et al. (2006) refine this approach to include dependence on monthly temperature and precipitation changes. Another approach uses a degree-day method, in which ablation is proportional to the integral of mean daily temperature above the freezing point (Braithwaite et al., 2003). Braithwaite and Raper (2002) show that there is excellent consistency between the two approaches, which indicates a similar relationship between bT and climatological precipitation. Schneeberger et al. (2000, 2003) use a degree-day method for ablation modified to include incident solar radiation, again obtaining similar results. De Woul and Hock (2006) find somewhat larger sensitivities for arctic G&IC from the degree-day method than the energy balance method. Calculations of bT are estimated to have an uncertainty of ±15% (standard deviation) (Gregory and Oerlemans, 1998; Raper and Braithwaite, 2006).

The global average sensitivity of G&IC surface mass balance to temperature is estimated by weighting the local sensitivities by land ice area in various regions. For a geographically and seasonally uniform rise in global temperature, Oerlemans and Fortuin (1992) derive a global average G&IC surface mass balance sensitivity of –0.40 m yr–1 °C–1, Dyurgerov and Meier (2000) –0.37 m yr–1 °C–1 (from observations), Braithwaite and Raper (2002) –0.41 m yr–1 °C–1 and Raper and Braithwaite (2005) –0.35 m yr–1 °C–1. Applying the scheme of Oerlemans (2001) and Oerlemans et al. (2006) worldwide gives a smaller value of –0.32 m yr–1 °C–1, the reduction being due to the modified treatment of albedo by Oerlemans (2001).

These global average sensitivities for uniform temperature change are given only for scenario-independent comparison of the various methods; they cannot be used for projections, which require regional and seasonal temperature changes (Gregory and Oerlemans, 1998; van de Wal and Wild, 2001). Using monthly temperature changes simulated in G&IC regions by 17 AR4 AOGCMs for scenarios A1B, A2 and B1, the global total surface mass balance sensitivity to global average temperature change for all G&IC outside Greenland and Antarctica is 0.61 ± 0.12 mm yr–1 °C–1 (sea level equivalent) with the bT of Zuo and Oerlemans (1997) or 0.49 ± 0.13 mm yr–1 °C–1 with those of Oerlemans (2001) and Oerlemans et al. (2006), subject to uncertainty in G&IC area (see Section 4.5.2 and Table 4.4).

Hansen and Nazarenko (2004) collate measurements of soot (fossil fuel black carbon) in snow and estimate consequent reductions in snow and ice albedo of between 0.001 for the pristine conditions of Antarctica and over 0.10 for polluted NH land areas. They argue that glacial ablation would be increased by this effect. While it is true that soot has not been explicitly considered in existing sensitivity estimates, it may already be included because the albedo and degree-day parametrizations have been empirically derived from data collected in affected regions.

For seasonally uniform temperature rise, Oerlemans et al. (1998) find that an increase in precipitation of 20 to 50% °C–1 is required to balance increased ablation, while Braithwaite et al. (2003) report a required precipitation increase of 29 to 41% °C–1, in both cases for a sample of G&IC representing a variety of climatic regimes. Oerlemans et al. (2006) require a precipitation increase of 20 to 43% °C–1 to balance ablation increase, and de Woul and Hock (2006) approximately 20% °C–1 for Arctic G&IC. Although AOGCMs generally project larger than average precipitation change in northern mid- and high-latitude regions, the global average is 1 to 2% °C–1 (Section 10.3.1), so ablation increases would be expected to dominate worldwide. However, precipitation changes may sometimes dominate locally (see Section 4.5.3).

Regressing observed global total mass balance changes of all G&IC outside Greenland and Antarctica against global average surface temperature change gives a global total mass balance sensitivity which is greater than model results (see Appendix 10.A). The current state of knowledge does not permit a satisfactory explanation of the difference. Giving more weight to the observational record but enlarging the uncertainty to allow for systematic error, a value of 0.80 ± 0.33 mm yr–1 °C–1 (5 to 95% range) is adopted for projections. The regression indicates that the climate of 1865 to 1895 was 0.13°C warmer globally than the climate that gives a steady state for G&IC (cf., Zuo and Oerlemans, 1997; Gregory et al., 2006). Model results for the 20th century are sensitive to this value, but the projected temperature change in the 21st century is large by comparison, making the effect relatively less important for projections (see Appendix 10.A).