IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis Surface Mass Balance

Surface mass balance (SMB) is immediately influenced by climate change. A good simulation of the ice sheet SMB requires a resolution exceeding that of AGCMs used for long climate experiments, because of the steep slopes at the margins of the ice sheet, where the majority of the precipitation and all of the ablation occur. Precipitation over ice sheets is typically overestimated by AGCMs, because their smooth topography does not present a sufficient barrier to inland penetration (Ohmura et al., 1996; Glover, 1999; Murphy et al., 2002). Ablation also tends to be overestimated because the area at low altitude around the margins of the ice sheet, where melting preferentially occurs, is exaggerated (Glover, 1999; Wild et al., 2003). In addition, AGCMs do not generally have a representation of the refreezing of surface melt water within the snowpack and may not include albedo variations dependent on snow ageing and its conversion to ice.

To address these issues, several groups have computed SMB at resolutions of tens of kilometres or less, with results that compare acceptably well with observations (e.g., van Lipzig et al., 2002; Wild et al., 2003). Ablation is calculated either by schemes based on temperature (degree-day or other temperature index methods) or by energy balance modelling. In the studies listed in Table 10.6, changes in SMB have been calculated from climate change simulations with high-resolution AGCMs or by perturbing a high-resolution observational climatology with climate model output, rather than by direct use of low-resolution GCM results. The models used for projected SMB changes are similar in kind to those used to study recent SMB changes (Section

All the models show an increase in accumulation, but there is considerable uncertainty in its size (Table 10.6; van de Wal et al., 2001; Huybrechts et al., 2004). Precipitation increase could be determined by atmospheric radiative balance, increase in saturation specific humidity with temperature, circulation changes, retreat of sea ice permitting greater evaporation or a combination of these (van Lipzig et al., 2002). Accumulation also depends on change in local temperature, which strongly affects whether precipitation is solid or liquid (Janssens and Huybrechts, 2000), tending to make the accumulation increase smaller than the precipitation increase for a given temperature rise. For Antarctica, accumulation increases by 6 to 9% °C–1 in the high-resolution AGCMs. Precipitation increases somewhat less in AR4 AOGCMs (typically of lower resolution), by 3 to 8% °C–1. For Greenland, accumulation derived from the high-resolution AGCMs increases by 5 to 9% °C–1. Precipitation increases by 4 to 7% °C–1 in the AR4 AOGCMs.

Table 10.6. Comparison of ice sheet (grounded ice area) SMB changes calculated from high-resolution climate models. DP/DT is the change in accumulation divided by change in temperature over the ice sheet, expressed as sea level equivalent (positive for falling sea level), and DR/DT the corresponding quantity for ablation (positive for rising sea level). Note that ablation increases more rapidly than linearly with DT (van de Wal et al., 2001; Gregory and Huybrechts, 2006). To convert from mm yr–1 °C–1 to kg yr–1 °C–1, multiply by 3.6 × 1014 m2. To convert mm yr–1 °C–1 of sea level equivalent to mm yr–1 °C–1 averaged over the ice sheet, multiply by –206 for Greenland and –26 for Antarctica. DP/(PDT) is the fractional change in accumulation divided by the change in temperature.

Study Climate modela Model resolution and SMB sourceb Greenland Antarctica 
(mm yr–1 °C–1) (% °C–1) (mm yr–1 °C–1) (mm yr–1 °C–1) (% °C–1) 
Van de Wal et al. (2001) ECHAM4 20 km EB 0.14 8.5 0.16 n.a. n.a. 
Wild and Ohmura (2000) ECHAM4 T106 ≈ 1.1° EB 0.13 8.2 0.22 0.47 7.4 
Wild et al. (2003) ECHAM4 2 km TI 0.13 8.2 0.04 0.47 7.4 
Bugnion and Stone (2002) ECHAM4 20 km EB 0.10 6.4 0.13 n.a. n.a. 
Huybrechts et al. (2004) ECHAM4 20 km TI 0.13c 7.6c 0.14 0.49c 7.3c 
Huybrechts et al. (2004) HadAM3H 20 km TI 0.09c 4.7c 0.23 0.37c 5.5c 
Van Lipzig et al. (2002) RACMO 55 km EB n.a. n.a. n.a. 0.53 9.0 
Krinner et al. (2007) LMDZ4 60 km EB n.a. n.a. n.a. 0.49 8.4 


a ECHAM4: Max Planck Institute for Meteorology AGCM; HadAM3H: high-resolution Met Office Hadley Centre AGCM; RACMO: Regional Atmospheric Climate Model (for Antarctica); LMDZ4: Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique AGCM (with high resolution over Antarctica).

b EB: SMB calculated from energy balance; TI: SMB calculated from temperature index.

c In these cases P is precipitation rather than accumulation.

Kapsner et al. (1995) do not find a relationship between precipitation and temperature variability inferred from Greenland ice cores for the Holocene, although both show large changes from the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) to the Holocene. In the UKMO-HadCM3 AOGCM, the relationship is strong for climate change forced by greenhouse gases and the glacial-interglacial transition, but weaker for naturally forced variability (Gregory et al., 2006). Increasing precipitation in conjunction with warming has been observed in recent years in Greenland (Section

All studies for the 21st century project that antarctic SMB changes will contribute negatively to sea level, owing to increasing accumulation exceeding any ablation increase (see Table 10.6). This tendency has not been observed in the average over Antarctica in reanalysis products for the last two decades (see Section, but during this period Antarctica as a whole has not warmed; on the other hand, precipitation has increased on the Antarctic Peninsula, where there has been strong warming.

In projections for Greenland, ablation increase is important but uncertain, being particularly sensitive to temperature change around the margins. Climate models project less warming in these low-altitude regions than the Greenland average, and less warming in summer (when ablation occurs) than the annual average, but greater warming in Greenland than the global average (Church et al., 2001; Huybrechts et al., 2004; Chylek and Lohmann, 2005; Gregory and Huybrechts, 2006). In most studies, Greenland SMB changes represent a net positive contribution to sea level in the 21st century (Table 10.6; Kiilsholm et al., 2003) because the ablation increase is larger than the precipitation increase. Only Wild et al. (2003) find the opposite, so that the net SMB change contributes negatively to sea level in the 21st century. Wild et al. (2003) attribute this difference to the reduced ablation area in their higher-resolution grid. A positive SMB change is not consistent with analyses of recent changes in Greenland SMB (see Section

For an average temperature change of 3°C over each ice sheet, a combination of four high-resolution AGCM simulations and 18 AR4 AOGCMs (Huybrechts et al., 2004; Gregory and Huybrechts, 2006) gives SMB changes of 0.3 ± 0.3 mm yr–1 for Greenland and –0.9 ± 0.5 mm yr–1 for Antarctica (sea level equivalent), that is, sensitivities of 0.11 ± 0.09 mm yr–1 °C–1 for Greenland and –0.29 ± 0.18 mm yr–1 °C–1 for Antarctica. These results generally cover the range shown in Table 10.6, but tend to give more positive (Greenland) or less negative (Antarctica) sea level rise because of the smaller precipitation increases projected by the AOGCMs than by the high-resolution AGCMs. The uncertainties are from the spatial and seasonal patterns of precipitation and temperature change over the ice sheets, and from the ablation calculation. Projections under SRES scenarios for the 21st century are shown in Table 10.7.