2015 melt season in review

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Melt extent in Greenland was above average in 2015, ranking 11th highest in the 37 year record from satellite data. Overall, climate patterns favored intense melting in the north and northwestern parts of the ice sheet, and relatively cool conditions in the southeast.

Overview of conditions

melt anomaly maps

Figure 1a. The maps show the difference from the 1981 to 2010 average number of melt days in 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012 on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Data are from the MEaSUREs Greenland Surface Melt Daily 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 data set. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

melt extent graph

Figure 1b. The graph above shows the daily extent of melt during 2015 on the Greenland Ice Sheet surface as a percentage. The 1981 to 2010 average is shown by a blue dashed line. The gray area around this average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Data are from the MEaSUREs Greenland Surface Melt Daily 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 data set. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

Surface melt extent on the Greenland Ice Sheet in 2015 was greater than average in northwestern and northern Greenland, and average to below-average levels along the western and southeast coast. The main features of the 2015 season were a slow start, with cool conditions in central and southeastern Greenland in June, a surge in melting in late June and all of July as very warm conditions prevailed along the far northern and northwestern coast, and an average August pattern, with a late surge of southeastern melting at the end of the month extending into early September. At the peak in early July, over 50% of the ice sheet experienced surface melting.

Conditions in context

Figure 3. Caption.||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center| High-resolution image

Figure 2. The plots show difference from the 1980 to 2010 average for air pressure (left) and air temperature (right), for June, July, and August 2015 combined. Air pressures and temperatures are at the 700 millibar level (approximately ~10,000 feet altitude).

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/NOAA ESRL Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Weather conditions averaged over the summer months of June, July, and August (compared to 1981 to 2010 averages for the same months) revealed a higher-than-average pressure over the island again, as has been the case for several recent summers. For 2015 the pressures were most above average along the northern Greenland coast and across to Ellesmere Island. This was also an area of above-average temperatures, up to 2° Celsius (4° Fahrenheit) higher than usual, and was the site of the most frequent melting this year as well. However, much cooler conditions prevailed in central Greenland and along the southeast coast (approximately 1° Celsius, or 2° Fahrenheit, below average), consistent with the lower-than-average melt extent in this area. The most significant weather period was the warm spell during late June and most of July, when southerly winds along the western coast drove temperatures up to 4° Celsius (7° Fahrenheit) above average near Thule in northwestern Greenland.

Greenland in 2015 compared to previous years

melt anomaly plots

Figure 3. The graph at top shows annual melt extent anomalies (difference from average) for 1978 to 2015. The graph at bottom shows daily growth of melt area for 1978 to 2015, showing the four most recent years as colored lines.

Credit: Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

The 2015 total summer melt extent area (the sum of the area of surface melt for each day for June, July, and August) was the 11th largest in the period 1978 to 2015. While higher than the 37-year average, 2015 was fairly typical for the past decade’s summers in Greenland. Comparing the seasonal progression of the four most recent years, the recent tendency for greater-than-average melt extent is apparent. This plot also shows the rapid increase in total melt area seen in July, increasing at a rate similar to the record melt year 2012. Greenland’s 2015 melt extent area total was approximately 85,000 square kilometers (32,800 square miles) above the 1981 to 2010 average.

Reflections on the season

Figure 4. This animated series of images shows average albedo (surface reflectance, 5-day running average) of Greenland from June 12 to August 31, 2015. Anomalies are compared to 1981 to 2010 averages. Data are from the NASA MODIS/Terra Snow Cover Daily L3 Global 500m Grid, Version 5 data set, available at the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Images courtesy Jason Box/GEUS.

The reflectivity of Greenland’s ice sheet surface (bare ice, dry or wet snow, and in some areas wet snow and ice with dust, soot, and embedded microbes), when compared to a reference average of 2000 to 2009, tells us additional details about the 2015 melt season. The season began with cool, dry, snowy conditions (average to brighter-than-average surface) along the southwest and eastern coast in mid-June, and then developed widespread surface melting along the western and northwestern coast (7.5 to 15% darker than average) by the end of June. Melting and exposure of soot and dust on the surface peaked in the first half of July along the entire northwest and northern coastline extending well into the ice sheet (widespread areas of 15% below-average reflectivity) and then stopped relatively abruptly around July 20 to 25th as fresh snow fell over much of the island (raising the brightness of the surface to near-average levels). At the end of August, there was a brief warm spell, and the surface darkened along the southeastern coast for a short period.

Ice in the balance

Figure 5. Time series of snowfall amount, melt runoff amount, and the net balance (difference) between the two, for the period 1949 to 2015 as simulated by the regional climate MAR model forced by the NCEP-NCAR reanalysis.

Credit: X. Fettweis, University of Liège
High-resolution image

Using a model (MAR) of the Greenland Ice Sheet climate that is driven by a retrospective reanalysis of weather conditions (NCEP-NCAR v1), a record of the total precipitation and melt runoff can be generated for the past 67 years. While not perfectly accurate, it gives a good overview of the trends of snowfall, and melting, for the island. The difference between the two represents the surface mass balance for the ice sheet (mass that is deposited by snow accumulation minus the mass that flows away as water runoff). This is called the surface mass balance in glaciology, because it does not include the component that flows away as glacier ice. The analysis shows that snowfall has changed very little over the past several decades, but surface melting and runoff tended to increase beginning about fifteen to twenty years ago, resulting in some reduction in the net amount of snow left on Greenland to contribute to glacier flow. The summer of 2015 had only slightly greater meltwater runoff than average, and near-normal snowfall totals.

Chasing the snowline uphill

melt plots

Figure 6. The diagrams show how surface melting has increased in western Greenland, a section of the ice sheet often covered by meltwater lakes. At top, the amount of melting in meters is shown relative to the elevation of the ice sheet from coast to summit. However, some of this summer melting is more than compensated by winter snowfall. At bottom, the combined effects of snow input and melt runoff are shown (the surface mass balance, or SMB). Both plots illustrate how melting is increasing, and how higher parts of the ice sheet are affected. The elevation where winter snowfall and summer melting are equal is called the equilibrium line altitude. This has climbed upward in recent decades.

Credit: Poinar et al., Geophys.Res. Lett.
High-resolution image

A recent study of change in the extent of melting in western Greenland, and its potential effects on glacier ice flow, shows that loss of ice by surface melting has climbed uphill on the Greenland ice sheet in recent decades. When water drains through the ice sheet and lifts part of the ice off the bedrock, it can cause the ice to flow faster. If this process were to expand uphill into new areas of the ice sheet, it could significantly affect the ice flow. However, a key step is that the water requires a pathway, usually a crevasse, to reach the base of the ice. The study suggests that at elevations above 1,600 meters (5,200 feet), there are very few crevasses, and the stress on the ice is too low to generate many new crevasses. This argues that a runaway process earlier thought to be a key part of eventual major losses of Greenland’s ice sheet is probably not as severe as once thought.

Further reading

Poinar et al., 2015, Limits to future expansion of surface-melt-enhanced ice flow into the interior of western Greenland, Geophys. Res. Lett., doi:10.1002/2015GL063192.

Bringing the high heat to the upper inside corner

Surface melting was significantly more frequent and more extensive than average on the Greenland Ice Sheet in July, especially around the northwestern coast. July also saw high air pressure over the entire island and warmer-than-average temperatures in the northwest. This warmer summertime pattern, combined with lower winter snowfall patterns, resulted in a large mass loss from the ice sheet for the summer to date.

Overview of conditions

melt extent images and chart

Figure 1a. The maps show the cumulative days of surface melting (left) and anomalies in the number of melt days (right) for July 2015 (31 days) on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Anomalies are compared to the period 1981 to 2010.

Figure 1b. The graph above shows the daily extent of melt during 2015 through July 31, 2015 on the Greenland Ice Sheet surface, as a percentage (red line). The 1981 to 2010 average is shown by a blue dashed line. The gray area around this average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data.

Data are from the MEaSUREs Greenland Surface Melt Daily 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 data set. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

The surge in surface melt extent for the Greenland Ice Sheet that began in late June continued through much of July, with melt extent through mid-month not far from two standard deviations above the average for the 1981 to 2010 reference period, and peaking above two standard deviations during the first few days of July. By the last week of the month, overall melt extent had fallen below average.

Broad areas of the far northern ice sheet and the northwestern Melville Coast experienced frequent surface melting. A somewhat unusual pattern occurred in the south, with more melt days than average near the ice sheet ridge crest (center) and coastline, and below-average melting in mid-elevation areas. The pattern could be explained by calm winds near the ridge crest, permitting surface melt, and stronger winds along the flanks, or by differences in cloud conditions. A similar pattern is seen in a model of surface melting based on weather conditions (see Dr. Xavier Fettweis’ Web page).

Conditions in context

temperature and pressure plots

Figure 2a. The plot shows average monthly air temperature anomaly for July 2015 at the 700 millibar level (about 10,000 feet altitude). Anomalies are compared to the 1981 to 2010 average conditions for the month. While the northwestern corner of the island was warmer than average, the southeastern coast was slightly cool.

Figure 2b. The plot shows average monthly sea level pressure anomaly for July 2015 over Greenland. Anomalies are compared to the 1981 to 2010 average. High pressure (on average) covered the entire island, and sunny conditions were reported by researchers in the field on the coasts.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, courtesy NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Greenland’s temperature pattern is almost always a bull’s-eye pattern, warmer around the coast and significantly colder near the center of the ice sheet. This pattern is driven by the high elevation difference between coast and summit. For this reason, we look at anomaly, or the deviation from the average pattern, to help see the weather characteristics of the month. In July, the anomaly showed a strong gradient from northwest to southeast, with conditions up to 3.5 degrees Celsius (6 degrees Fahrenheit) above average near Qaanaaq (Thule) in northwest Greenland, and about 1.5 degrees Celsius (3 degrees Fahrenheit) below average near Helheim Glacier in the southeast. The temperature pattern is consistent with a pressure pattern that has higher-than-average air pressure centered over the island for the month. A tendency toward clear skies and southerly winds along the northwestern coast is associated with high pressure over central Greenland.

The NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) and AO (Arctic Oscillation) remained in a mildly negative index pattern throughout July.

Running a deficit

surface mass balance images and graphs

Figure 3. The top images show where Greenland has lost ice due to low snow input and melting runoff combined, shown as change in the net amount of ice thickness (a), and how the pattern of loss from autumn 2014 through July 2015 compares with the typical range, and with the recent record loss year of 2012 (b). The difference, or balance, between snow input and melt run-off for glaciers and ice sheets is called the surface mass balance (SMB). For the entire island, the net surplus or deficit is measured in gigatons (Gt) or gigatons per day (Gt/day). The bottom maps show the total snowfall mass in kilograms per meter squared (c), and the anomaly of snowfall for the past winter season in the same units (d). Divide the values in c and d by ~5 to get pounds per square foot.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy J. Box/X. Fettweis
High-resolution image

The sharp increase in surface melt extent (and estimated melt runoff) in July resulted in large ice mass loss rates. Although 2015 is not at satellite-era record levels (set in 2012), there was a large rate of loss overall. A combination of low snowfall in the past winter season and warm temperatures with extensive melting resulted in a large loss of ice from the ice sheet in the northwest. Some areas in the southern one-third of the ice sheet have less loss than average. Greenland typically loses mass due to melt runoff through the summer, although in recent years both low snow and runoff, and an increase in glacier outflow (not shown here) have combined to significantly shrink the thickness of the ice sheet, contributing to sea level rise.

Water-soaked: continued from June 15th

Figure 4.

Figure 4. Left, map of Greenland showing areas mapped by Operation IceBridge as firn aquifer. The blue star is the location of the field expedition study area. Right, NSIDC scientist Dr. Lora Koenig holding a section of ice core, containing both ice and water, used to determine the volume of water in the aquifer.

Map credit: L. Koenig, NSIDC. Photo credit: Clément Miège.
High-resolution image

The high pressure over Greenland for much of July led to very good conditions for field work, bringing sunny skies to southeast Greenland. While melt area dropped below average overall for Greenland late in the month, melting was still frequent along the coastal southeast. The Greenland aquifer field team (a joint NSF/NASA research project) conducted a field measurement program to determine how the firn aquifer level and volume fluctuates through time (see our post for June 15, 2015, and the Earth Observatory Greenland Aquifer Expedition site).

As warming conditions continue over the Greenland Ice Sheet, melt is extending further inland, increasing the extent of water-soaked snow at depth (called the firn aquifer). The aquifer level is also rising towards the surface in the interior of the ice sheet. Some drainage, locally lowering the aquifer level, has been observed toward the coast. To date there are just two ice cores that can be used to determine the volume of water in the aquifer. These suggest that the total volume of water in the aquifer has not changed significantly between 2013 and 2015. Airborne radar from Operation IceBridge from 2011 to 2013 suggests that the volume of the aquifer is likely increasing inland and perhaps decreasing towards the coast.

Fly-over tour of the Greenland melt lake region

melt lakes image

Figure 5. Imagery from the NASA/USGS Landsat 8 satellite on July 12, 2014 shows melt lakes on the surface of the ice sheet in southwest Greenland. Click on the image to watch a narrated animation of the melt lakes image.

Credit: Allen Pope, NSIDC/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
View the animation

A mock aerial tour video, created by NASA’s Goddard Data Visualization group, highlights the importance of surface meltwater lakes in western Greenland and describes the goals of mapping lake depths from space. NSIDC’s Dr. Allen Pope narrates.

Meltwater on the surface of the ice sheet can drain through the ice and accelerate the flow of ice by partially lifting the ice sheet off the bedrock and gravel base (see Zwally et al. study for further reading). Landsat 8 satellite imagery from last July helps show the many melt lakes that typically pock the surface of the ice sheet in summer.

References

Zwally et al., Surface melt-induced acceleration of Greenland Ice Flow, Science, doi: 10.1126/science.1072708.

Summer heat hits cold ice sheet

Warm conditions arrived on the Greenland Ice Sheet in late June, causing a sudden spike in melting that increased in early July and led to a sharp reduction in surface albedo (brightness of the snow). However, as of mid-July surface melt remained less extensive than during 2012, the record melt summer.

Overview of conditions

surface melt extent

Figure 1a. The maps show the cumulative days of surface melting (left) and anomalies in the number of melt days (right) for June 2015 (30 days) on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Anomalies are compared to the period 1981 to 2010. Data are from the MEaSUREs Greenland Surface Melt Daily 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 data set. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

melt area graph

Figure 1b. The graph above shows the daily extent of melt during 2015 through July 11, 2015 on the Greenland Ice Sheet surface as a percentage (red line). The blue line shows the melt extent percentage for the record-setting 2012 summer, for comparison. The 1981 to 2010 average is shown by a blue dashed line. The gray area around this average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Data are from the MEaSUREs Greenland Surface Melt Daily 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 data set. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

Despite getting off to a slow start this summer, after an unusually cold period (3 degrees Celsius, or 5 degrees Fahrenheit below the 1981 to 2010 average for west Greenland), sunny and sharply warmer conditions during the second half of June favored extensive melting along the western coast of Greenland, pushing the melt day count well above the 1981 to 2010 average by the end of the month. As of the end of June, both the north and southeast ice sheet areas still had significant areas where the number of melt days was below average; however, these areas saw intense melt for several days during the first half of July.

Conditions in context

air temperature anomaly plot

Figure 2a. The plot shows average monthly air temperature anomaly over Greenland for June 2015 at the 700 millibar level (about 10,000 feet altitude). Anomalies are compared to the 1981 to 2010 average. Temperatures were near average over many areas of Greenland for the month of June, but below average in the high Summit area.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, courtesy NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

sea level pressure anomaly plot

Figure 2b. The plot shows sea level pressure anomaly over Greenland for June 10, 2015, during the period of rapid increase in surface melt extent. Anomalies are compared to the 1981 to 2010 average.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, courtesy NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Temperatures at the 700 hPa level (about 10,000 feet altitude) for the month of June overall were near average over much of coastal Greenland, and below average at the summit area (2 degrees Celsius, or 4 degrees Fahrenheit, below the 1981 to 2010 average). However, for the latter part of the month, and extending into mid-July, temperatures were everywhere markedly higher than average. Along the central western Greenland coast, temperatures rose to 2.5 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) above the average, and 1.5 degrees Celsius (3 degrees Fahrenheit) above average along the northern and northeastern coasts. These warm conditions are linked to above average sea level pressures over Greenland from mid-June to mid-July.

The major circulation patterns governing climate variability, the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) and AO (Arctic Oscillation) shifted during the month of June and into July to a negative index pattern, meaning that circulation in the North Atlantic and Arctic are described by a more sinuous, weaker polar jet stream, and generally more mixing of air between polar and arctic latitudes.

View a plot of air temperature anomalies for June 10 to July 10

View a plot of sea level pressure anomalies for June 10 to July 10

View an illustration of North Atlantic Oscillation positive and negative modes

View an illustration of Arctic Oscillation positive and negative modes

Lower, upon reflection

albedo graph

Figure 3. The graph shows albedo variations over the annual cycle for the Greenland Ice Sheet. The black line shows the 2015 trend, which briefly surpassed the record-setting 2012 season. Data are from the MODIS/Terra Snow Cover Daily L3 Global 500m Grid albedo product.

Credit: Jason Box/GEUS
High-resolution image

Reflectivity of the ice sheet, as measured by the climate variable albedo, dropped sharply during the second half of June as the ice sheet surface melt extent rapidly increased. By early July, the albedo was the lowest in the 16-year MODIS record used for comparison, including the summer of 2012, which set a record for high melt extent in the modern satellite era. The trend toward lower albedo over the period of satellite observations is due to a combination of warming, greater melting on the ice and possibly an increase in soot and dust deposited on the ice sheet. Warm conditions, near the melting point but still below it, can cause a snowpack to evolve more rapidly toward rounder snow grains. The net effect of this rounding is that the snow absorbs slightly more light, that is, it becomes a bit darker. For the regions of melting, wet snow absorbs much more light than dry snow, reducing albedo.

Clear and sunny

MODIS image of the Arctic

Figure 4. This Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) true-color Arctic mosaic image for July 7, 2015 shows surface melting on the northwest coast of Greenland as well as areas of surface melt on Arctic sea ice.

Credit: Land Atmosphere Near-Real Time Capability for EOS (LANCE) System, NASA/GSFC
High-resolution image

A MODIS daily mosaic image of the Arctic for July 7, 2015 shows clear skies over Greenland, associated with a strong high pressure pattern, and areas of extensive surface melting along parts of the the western (upper left) and northern coastal areas of the ice sheet (grey-blue regions around the perimeter of the ice sheet). The image also shows areas of smoke haze above the sea ice in northern Siberia. Farther afield, note the much darker surface of the Arctic sea ice cover relative to the higher central areas of Greenland. Being at sea level, the entire sea ice surface melts, usually by late June. Areas of significant surface melt ponding on the sea ice have a more bluish cast.

Long-term circulation trends favor increased melt

sea level pressure plots

Figure 5. These plots show seasonal trends in sea level pressure for the Northern Hemisphere from 1979 to 2014. Data are from the NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis. Areas outlined in dark green are statistically significant.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Tomoko Komayo
High-resolution image

Sea level pressure has increased over Greenland and the central Arctic Ocean north of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago during summer in recent decades. This trend favors warmer air temperatures and enhanced melting over the Greenland Ice Sheet. In addition, this pattern, when it occurs together with below normal sea level pressure over Eurasia, favors increased sea ice melt as well as increased ice transport through Fram Strait. The combination has been implicated in the accelerated rate of sea ice loss in recent years. A recent study suggests that earlier spring snowmelt may be contributing to the predominance of this summer atmospheric circulation pattern (see our July 8 Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis report). However, another study suggests a link between tropical sea surface temperatures. Regardless of the mechanisms driving the trend towards a more negative NAO pattern in summer, this pattern appears to be related to increased temperatures that promote more summer melt.

References

Matsumura, S. et al. 2014. Summer Arctic atmospheric circulation response to spring Eurasian snow cover and its possible linkage to accelerated sea ice decline, J. Climate, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-13-00549.1.

Ding, Q. et al. 2014. Tropical forcing of the recent rapid Arctic warming in northeastern Canada and Greenland, Nature 509, doi:10.1038/nature13260.

Cold and snowy spring slows start of Greenland melt

The Greenland Ice Sheet began 2015 (January 1 to May 31) with cooler-than-average conditions and higher-than-average snowfall accumulation, related to a near-continuous positive North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index pattern through the period. Surface melting was limited to just a few of the southern coastal fjord areas. The reduced melting and high snowfall has led to higher surface albedo (a whiter surface) near the coast than is typical for May. However, as June has unfolded, surface melt extent has increased to near-average levels. Most of this new melt extent is in the central western section near Jacobshavn. The albedo trend along the coastal ice has reversed, consistent with melt onset. However, below average temperatures persist into early June.

Overview of conditions

melt days and melt day anomalies images

Figure 1. The maps show the cumulative days of surface melting (left) and anomalies in the number of melt days (right) for May 2015 (31 days) on the Greenland Ice Sheet. Anomalies are compared to the period 1981 to 2010. Data are from the MEaSUREs Greenland Surface Melt Daily 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 data set.  About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

The number of surface melt days along the Greenland coast was well behind the levels typical of this time of year (relative to 1981 to 2010) for the entire southern rim of the ice sheet. Surface melting in May typically extends inland by 100 to 150 kilometers (60 to 90 miles) along the southern ice sheet perimeter, and along the northwestern Greenland coast (Mellville Coast) for 20 to 30 kilometers (14 to 20 miles) inland.

An examination of the ice sheet masking used for the Greenland Today daily melt and cumulative melt determination has revealed some areas of northern Peary Land and Kronprince Christian Land that are treated as ice sheet when in fact they are seasonal snow and patchy ice areas less than 25 kilometers across (the size of our measurement grid and sensor data samplings). These areas are indicating ice sheet surface melting incorrectly. The data set has been uniformly processed with the current (inaccurate) mask, and so comparisons such as our anomaly plots and cumulative melt extent are generally consistent. Extents and anomalies outside of these two northern peninsula areas are accurate. A new mask and full reprocessing are scheduled for late in 2015.

Conditions in context

Figure 2. The plot at top shows Greenland air temperature anomalies at the 700 millibar level (about 10,000 feet altitude) in degrees Celsius for May 2015. Blues and purples indicate lower than average temperatures. The plot at bottom shows average global monthly air temperature anomaly for November to April 2015, relative to a baseline period of 1951 to 1980, the reference period used by the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Sciences (NASA GISS).||Credit: NASA GISS|  High-resolution image

Figure 2. The plot at top shows Greenland air temperature anomalies at the 700 millibar level (about 10,000 feet altitude) in degrees Celsius for May 2015. Blues and purples indicate lower than average temperatures. The plot at bottom shows average global monthly air temperature anomaly for November to April 2015, relative to a baseline period of 1951 to 1980, the reference period used by the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Sciences (NASA GISS).

Credit: NASA GISS
High-resolution image

Figure 3. The plot shows snowfall anomaly for Greenland (in millimeters of water equivalent) for the winter season of 2014 to 2015. The majority of the eastern coast saw considerably more snowfall than the 1981 to 2010 average. Data are from the NCEP-NCARv1 reanalysis forced model (climate model run using measured weather values as forcing).||Credit: Credit: X. Fettweis, University of Liège|  High-resolution image

Figure 3. The plot shows snowfall anomaly for Greenland (in millimeters of water equivalent) for the winter season of 2014 to 2015. The majority of the eastern coast saw considerably more snowfall than the 1981 to 2010 average. Data are from the NCEP-NCARv1 reanalysis forced model (climate model run using measured weather values as forcing).

Credit: Credit: X. Fettweis, University of Liège
High-resolution image

The low early numbers for surface melt extent are consistent with a very cool month of May, with mid-troposphere temperatures 0.5 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit) or more below average everywhere on the island, reaching 3 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) below the 1981 to 2010 average along the western coast. Cooler-than-average conditions were the rule for the entire winter and early spring, particularly for the western and southwestern sections of the ice sheet. Notable is that this region, extending southwestward to the northeast United States and eastern Canada, is one of the few large regions of the globe with significantly below-average temperatures during this period. The warmest 12 months on record for the globe occurred during May 2014 to April 2015.

The major circulation pattern governing climate trends, the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation), has been predominantly positive (typical index values of +0.5 to +1.5) through the early part of the year. This tends to produce easterly winds and cool conditions for much of Greenland, and this is reflected in higher snow accumulation for the island, with 1 to 4 feet of excess snowfall (equivalent to 10 to 40 centimeters, or 4 to 12 inches, of excess water accumulation in the form of snow) along the eastern coast. On the Melville Coast (northwest) and far southeastern coast, snowfall was below average by about 5 to 20 centimeters water equivalent, or 6 to 24 inches of snow.

A silver lining

albedo anomaly map

Figure 4. The map shows albedo anomaly for May 2015, relative to the average for May for the 2000 to 2009 period. Red areas near the coast indicate regions where snow has persisted due to cool conditions. In the interior, the general reduction in albedo of Greenland snow observed for the past several years is evident. This is thought to be due to increased soot and dust in Arctic snow cover. However, the trend towards greater decrease in albedo in the northern half, and northwestern areas of Greenland are due in part to sensor degradation in the MODIS sensors over time. Data are from the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), MOD10A1 collection 5.

Credit: J. Box, Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS)
High-resolution image

Albedo (or surface brightness, reflectivity) for the ice sheet has been decreasing significantly for several years, due to the effects of snow grain coarsening due to warmer conditions and possibly from soot from both fires and industrial sources. We have discussed this in earlier posts. However, for May 2015, the cold conditions, late onset of melting and heavy snowfall in the east have created conditions where albedo is higher around much of the perimeter of the ice sheet than has been typical of this century so far. While interior albedo levels are 1 to 4% below the 2000 to 2009 average, a band of the western ice sheet, and much of the eastern near-coastal areas are 3 to 6% brighter than normal. Along the eastern side, much of the brightening is likely due to snow remaining on land and on darker bare ice longer into the spring season than has been typical. A pattern of darkening in the far northwestern areas of the island is in part due to a declining sensitivity of some MODIS channels that is hoped to be corrected in the forthcoming, updated albedo product using MODIS Collection 6 data.

Water-soaked      

firm aquifers map

Figure 5. The map at top shows areas of suspected firn aquifer on the Greenland Ice Sheet, based on analysis of airborne radar data from NASA Operation IceBridge. Thin lines indicate the overall flight lines for the 2011, 2012, and 2013 field programs, and colored areas indicate regions where radar data suggest a buried water layer in the firn. The plot at bottom is an example of a radar profile of the upper part of the ice sheet showing a water layer that has been confirmed by drilling into the ice. Variations in the depth of the aquifer are due to variations in the local amount of melting and to surface topography.

Credit: Clément Miège
High-resolution image

In a melt year that is starting more slowly than average and with more snow accumulation, especially in the east of Greenland, scientists are particularly interested in how and when the meltwater will reach the ocean. It is well known that surface melt extent over the Greenland Ice Sheet is expanding, and as a result the ice sheet is losing mass and contributing to sea level rise. When the surface snow or ice melts, it flows into a complex surface and sub-surface hydrologic system that transports the water from the ice sheet to the ocean. The routing of the water, however, is not simple. The Greenland hydrologic system consists of many features common to hydrologic systems on land, such as streams and lakes visible on the surface of the ice sheet, as well as features unique to the ice sheet, such as moulins and subglacial lakes.

A 2011 discovery in southeastern Greenland has added a new component to the Greenland Ice Sheet hydrologic system: a large firn aquifer. A firn aquifer is similar to an aquifer on land where water is stored in a porous stone or earthen layer, such as sandstone or gravel, in the space between the mineral grains. A firn aquifer is a similar kind of storage in coarse porous snow, called firn. Firn is snow that has persisted through a summer melt season. A firn aquifer resembles the cold, slushy drinks sold in stores during summer. Firn aquifers are formed in areas of both strong summer melting and heavy winter snowfall. Meltwater in the summer soaks down into the snow beneath it, warming the snow to the melting point. Heavy winter snows act like a thick blanket, keeping the layer at the freezing point throughout the winter and into the next summer period, when new melting and warmth recharges the soaked layer. Just like an aquifer on land, it is possible to drill into the firn aquifer and pump water out onto the frozen surface.

Why are firn aquifers important? The behavior of the aquifer will determine how much melt water from Greenland reaches the ocean and how quickly, and may have an effect on ice flow speeds. It is currently estimated that the southeastern Greenland firn aquifer stores 140 billion tons of water, equal to approximately 0.4 millimeter (0.016 inches) of sea level rise. The aquifer may be a temporary feature, delaying delivery of meltwater to the ocean until a sudden outflow, or it may be in equilibrium where meltwater recharges the aquifer each summer by the same amount that leaks each year. Another potential effect is that leaking meltwater from the aquifer can reach the base of the ice sheet, and act to partially lift glaciers off the bedrock. This process is well-known in areas where surface lakes and melt streams occur. Each year brings new data and new discoveries for the firn aquifer.

Further reading

Meltfactor: The ice and climate blog of Dr. Jason Box

Jason Box Web site

Xavier Fettweis Web site

Enormous Aquifer Discovered Under Greenland Ice Sheet

2014 melt season in review

Melt extent in Greenland was well above average in 2014, tying for the 7th highest extent in the 35-year satellite record. Overall, climate patterns favored intense west coast and northwest ice sheet melting, with relatively cool conditions in the southeast.

Overview of conditions

melt extent maps

Figure 1. These maps show melt extent patterns for 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 for the Greenland Ice Sheet, relative to the average pattern for 1981 to 2010. Red areas indicate a greater number of melt days than average. Data are from the MEaSUREs Greenland Surface Melt Daily 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 data set. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

Melt extent for the Greenland Ice Sheet in 2014 was similar in its regional pattern and intensity to the year 2011, with above average melting in northwestern and western Greenland, and average to below-average southeastern melt. This regional pattern of melting was more or less consistent for June, July, and August. The year 2014 stood in strong contrast to 2012, a record melt year for all areas, and to 2013, when much cooler conditions prevailed in the north. However, unlike the other three years, surface melting in 2014 was generally confined to low elevation areas near the coast.

Conditions in context

temperature and pressure anomaly plots

Figure 2. These plots show Greenland air pressures (left, geopotential height in meters) and air temperatures (right, degrees Celsius) relative to the 1981 to 2010 averages for June, July, and August 2014 combined. Data are at the 700 millibar level, or approximately 10,000 feet above sea level.

Credit: Courtesy NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Weather conditions were dominated by high pressure across the entire island but particularly in the southwest. Previously we noted the association between widespread surface melt and periods of high pressure (see our August post). Unsurprisingly, warm conditions prevailed near the areas of highest melting in the southwest. A few sites in southwestern Greenland (e.g. Kangerlussuaq) experienced the warmest summer on record in 2014, surpassing 2012 (see the NOAA Arctic Report Card for 2014). While average temperatures were 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the 1981 to 2010 average over the southwestern coast, conditions were near average over much of the northwest and northern ice sheet. Yet these areas also experienced above average melt extents, consistent with greater absorption of sunlight since 2009 due to darker snow affecting the frequency of surface melting for Greenland.

Greenland in 2014 compared to previous years

graph of melt extent and graph of melt area anomaly

Figure 2. The top graph shows the daily extent of melt during 2014 on the Greenland Ice Sheet surface as a percentage. The 1981 to 2010 average is shown by a blue dashed line. The gray area around this average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. The bottom graph compares melt area for June to August each year, to the average for 1981 to 2010 for these same months. Data are from the MEaSUREs Greenland Surface Melt Daily 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 data set. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

Comparing the seasonal progression of the four most recent years, the recent tendency for greater-than-average melt extent is apparent, as are the rapid variations in melt extent mid-year. The melt season of 2014 had a series of moderately extensive melt events early on, but did not undergo the expansive areas of surface melt on the high parts of the ice sheet as in 2012.

Relative to the 35 years of continuous satellite measurements, 2014 is tied with 2006 for seventh highest, and is well above the 1981 to 2010 average. Melt area total (the sum of daily melt extents for the entire June through August period) was approximately 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles) above the 1981 to 2010 average. The top eight melt extent years have all occurred since 2002.

NAO you tell me

graph of NAO

Figure 4. This graph plots the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index (blue line) for June, July, and August from 1950 to 2014. The red line shows the NAO trend. Data are from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center.

Credit: Xavier Fettweis, University of Liège/NOAA
High-resolution image

Recent trends towards increased surface melting in Greenland coincide with a trend in the summertime North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) pattern, a large-scale climate feature with wide influence over conditions in Greenland. The NAO index is a measure of the strength of the pattern, arbitrarily deemed positive when the main feature of the pattern, low pressure over Greenland and the central Arctic, is stronger than average, and negative when high pressure patterns prevail. Negative values of the NAO climate index are associated with anticyclonic circulation (high pressure, clockwise in the northern hemisphere) over Greenland, producing a tendency to draw warm air from the south along the west coast of Greenland and generally into the North Atlantic. While the NAO has been thought to be a more important feature during the cold season, recent studies find it to be an important metric at other times of the year, through its circulation control on mid-year heat and clear sky delivery to Greenland.

Although summer 2014 had a moderately negative index NAO value, a period of neutral conditions occurred mid-summer at the time of the maximum melt. In contrast, during the summer of 2012 the NAO was intensely negative throughout the whole summer season. This explains why summer 2014 melt was not exceptional, while its average June through August NAO index was negative. However, in mid-June and mid-August, when the NAO was the lowest, some strong anticyclonic conditions resulted in very warm events for the season, consistent with the persistent warm conditions and extensive melting induced by negative NAO conditions.

A darker mood

GrnToday_20Jan2015_Fig5alb

Figure 5a. The Greenland map shows reflectivity (albedo) anomaly, expressed as the percent difference from the average surface reflectance for the summer of 2014 (June, July, and August). Data are from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites.

Figure 5b. The plot shows the trend in summer (June, July, August) Greenland ice sheet reflectivity for 2000 to 2014.

Credit: Jason Box, GEUS
High-resolution image

Greenland’s snow and ice was significantly darker in the summer of 2014 than in 2013, and similar to 2011. This darkening trend is apparent in the comparison of the past 15 years of average summer (June through August) reflectivity, shown in Figure 5b. The darker snow absorbs more sunlight, leading to earlier melt onset and overall more melting, even if air temperature conditions are similar to previous years (as was the case in northwestern Greenland in 2014). Darker snow is a result of increased soot, dust, and even microbes in the snow, and the general trend of warmer summer conditions. Snow also darkens over time as jagged snowflakes evolve into rounder snow crystals. The larger snow grain size allows more light to be absorbed by the snow.

Mapping melt from space

Figure 6a. This plot shows total meltwater lake volume in a set of Landsat 8 scenes over Greenland from the summer of 2014. Inset, location of the four satellite image scenes. The orange dot just above the scene outline is the location of Kangerlussuaq, where summer conditions reached record warmth.||Credit: A. Pope et al./Landsat 8|High-resolution image

Figure 6a. This plot shows total surface meltwater lake volume in a set of Landsat 8 scenes over Greenland from the summer of 2014. Inset, location of the four satellite image scenes. The orange dot just above the scene outline is the location of Kangerlussuaq, where summer conditions reached record warmth.

Credit: A. Pope et al./Landsat 8
High-resolution image

GrnToday_20Jan2015_Fig6b_lakes

Figure 6b. Click the image to view the time series of Landsat 8 images of melt ponds on the Greenland Ice Sheet. This set of images was used to make the graph in figure 6a.

Credit: A. Pope et al./Landsat 8
View animated images

Landsat 8, launched in February of 2013, is proving to be a very useful tool for tracking changes in the ice sheets. A pair of ongoing studies at University of Colorado Boulder seeks to determine the best methods for mapping melt lake extent and depth, and both are making extensive use of Landsat 8. Melt lake volume is determined by both absorption of light in the lake water in a single color of the satellite images, or by assessing the ratio of two color channels of the image. Total meltwater volume pattern through the summer changes with latitude, elevation, and summer weather conditions.

Further reading

Arctic Report Card: Update for 2014. http://www.arctic.noaa.gov/reportcard

Box, J. E., X. Fettweis, J. C. Stroeve, M. Tedesco, D. K. Hall, and K. Steffen. 2012. Greenland ice sheet albedo feedback: thermodynamics and atmospheric drivers. The Cryosphere 6, 821-839, doi:10.5194/tc-6-821-2012.

Dumont, M., E. Brun, G. Picard, M. Michou, Q. Libois, J. R. Petit, M. Geyer, S. Morin, and B. Josse. 2014. Contribution of light-absorbing impurities in snow to Greenland’s darkening since 200. Nature Geoscience 7, 509-512, doi:10.1038/ngeo2180.

Moussavi, M., W. Abdalati, A. Pope, and T. Scambos. 2015 in prep. Spaceborne derivation and validation of supraglacial lake volume along the western margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Remote Sensing of Environment, in preparation.

Pope, A., T. Scambos, M. Moussavi, M. Tedesco, M. Willis, and D. Shean. 2015 in prep. Estimating supraglacial lake depth using Landsat 8. The Cryosphere, in preparation.

Greenland’s summer: The pressure is on, and off

Melting on the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet in June and July 2014 has been well above the 1981 to 2010 average in most areas, but after a fast start in May, the southern region and the southeastern coast have seen lower-than-average melt. Mid-summer surface melting did not reach higher elevations (above 2000 meters) as often as in the reference period 1981 to 2010. Short bursts of extensive melting were related to periods of high air pressure over the ice sheet favoring sunny conditions, and promoting increased melting in darker areas of the ice sheet (wet snow, bare ice, or dirty snow).

Overview of conditions

Cumulative melt days and melt anomalies June July 2014

Figure 1. Cumulative days of surface melting (top pair) and anomalies in the number of melt days (bottom pair) for June and July, 2014 (left side and right side, respectively). Anomalies are compared to the period 1981 to 2010. Data are from the Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

Daily melt extent in June surged to nearly 40% of the ice surface area by mid-month and remained above the average extent for the 30-year reference period (1981 to 2010) for almost the entire month. Positive melt day anomalies were present in all areas except for the southeastern ice sheet. In July, melting was intense along the northwestern coast (more than 15 days above the average in some areas) and unusually low along the southeastern coast, especially near Helheim Glacier where July melt days were 3 to 8 days less than average. Overall, melting was less frequent than average in the high interior and southeastern areas of the ice sheet.

 

 

Conditions in context

surface melt and temperature graphs

Figure 2. Melt extent time-series for 2014 (top) and average air temperature anomaly at a level about 800 meters (2,500 feet, 925 hPa) above the sea level for June 1 to August 14, 2014. Melt extent data are from the Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record. Air temperature data are from the National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Reanalysis.

Top image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
Bottom image credit: NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Thus far, the maximum daily melt extent for summer 2014 was near 40% of the ice sheet surface on June 13. This was the first in a series of four warm periods followed by four periods of near-average conditions spanning the rest of June and July. Since August began, daily melt extent declined to near-average values for late summer. Summer air temperatures for June, July, and the first half of August mirrored the overall pattern of melt intensity, with cooler-than-average conditions about 1degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) below normal in the high ice sheet plateau, and warmer-than-average conditions along the western coast, especially the southwestern coastal area at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above average.

Models of the Greenland 2014 summer season produced by the MAR version 3.4 model of Xavier Fettweis from Liège University show that the overall snowfall-melt balance for Greenland  (the surface mass balance, or SMB) is very close to the 1981 to 2010 average. While 2013 total autumn snowfall was slightly higher than average, melting in the 2014 summer has now reduced the initial winter 2013 to 2014 snow accumulation surplus. However, despite the high total snow amount, northwestern Greenland had lower-than-normal winter snowfall accumulation. With the onset of a vigorous melt season in that area, the bright white snow cover was quickly removed, exposing darker ice below, and increasing the amount of melting as well as decreasing the ice sheet meltwater retention capacity in this area. This has produced a strong and statistically significant negative mass balance for this summer along Greenland’s northwestern coast.

Melting under pressure

graphs

Figure 3. Three six-day periods in the Greenland surface melt extent daily time-series plot outline periods of high and low melting during June and July. Below, surface air pressure anomaly plots for the same periods (A, B, and C) are shown. A and C are high-melt-extent periods, and show greater-than-average air pressure (2 to 6 millibars); the opposite is true for the low-melt period, B. The two other high-melt periods, June 15 to 20 and July 19 to 25, also show higher-than-average air pressure. Melt extent data are from the Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record. Air pressure data are from the National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) Reanalysis.

Image credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

The four higher-melting periods of mid-June to late July and the intervening periods of more average melt extent appear to be associated with periods of high and low air pressure, respectively. Examining six-day intervals in air pressure reveals higher-than-average pressure dominates during the peaks in surface melt extent, and low pressure during the low-melt periods. High pressure is associated with clear skies, and therefore greater solar energy input to the surface snow, impacting mainly the low albedo zones (in particular the ablation zone). This explains why the melt extent has been abnormally high in the ablation zone and abnormally low in the higher-elevation snow accumulation zone. The melt rate in the accumulation zone is more sensitive to warm but cloudy days and the associated increase in long-wave radiation, due the high surface albedo in this zone. Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) images of Greenland on June 13 and July 3 indeed show a mostly cloudless Greenland, whereas more cloud cover is present on June 30 and July 1 during the lower-melt-extent periods.

Sky selfie

ice camp photos

Figure 4. Images of the Greenland Ice Sheet near Kangerlugssuaq in west-central Greenland taken by a drone (UAV) used to evaluate the evolving albedo of the ice sheet surface during the summer melt season. At top left, Prof. Jason Box and Johnny Ryan, a Ph.D. student at Aberystwyth University, hold the drone they used. Top left, the drone takes a picture of the surface (and the operator, J. Ryan) on August 9, 2014 from low altitude, showing numerous cryoconite holes filled with black dust, grit, and soot that had accumulated in the winter snowpack, and melted out of the older ice below. Bottom, a higher-altitude image of the same area reveals sinuous melt streams and linear fractures, as well as small speckles of cryoconite holes on the ice sheet. Tents from the camp are also visible as colorful dots against the ice surface.

Credit: Photos courtesy of Johnny Ryan, Aberystwyth University, Jason Box, GEUS, and Dark Snow Project.
High-resolution image

Our colleague Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), and graduate student Johnny Ryan of Aberystwyth University spent much of the summer on the western ice sheet at Camp Dark Snow, near Kangerlugssuaq on the Arctic Circle (67 degrees north latitude at 1,010 meters above sea level). The team was investigating the Greenland surface albedo, climate, and surface melting, and how these evolve during summer. As part of the research, they have been using drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs) to photograph the surface from low altitude to examine the development of surface structures associated with melting. Strips of images and albedo measurements from the UAV are compared with simultaneous satellite images from the NASA MODIS sensor as an intermediate state to relate ground albedo measurements with that of the entire ice sheet. UAV photos reveal a surface riven with fractures, and drained by ephemeral rivers of melt water. The mid-summer melt surface in this area is pocked with 0.5 to 1 meter-wide (1.5 to 3 feet-wide) potholes with black grit and dust collected at the bottom. This black material is called cryoconite, and is comprised of dust and soot deposited on the surface, and melted out from the older ice exposed by melting. The dark patches are often glued together by tiny microbes.

Further reading

Fettweis, X., et al. 2014 Greenland ice sheet SMB simulated by MARv3.4 in real time.

Ryan, J.C., A.L. Hubbard, J. Todd, J.R. Carr, J.E. Box, P. Christoffersen, T.O. Holt, and N. Snooke, 2014, in review. Repeat UAV photogrammetry to assess calving front dynamics at a large outlet glacier draining the Greenland Ice Sheet. The Cryosphere Discussions 8, 2243-2275, doi:10.5194/tcd-8-2243-2014.

A warm southern welcome to spring

Surface melting on the Greenland Ice Sheet in May 2014 proceeded quickly, despite cool conditions over wide areas. We continue to explore recent evidence of lower snow reflectivity, and note its likely impact on snow melt during Greenland’s summer season.

Overview of conditions

Map of melt days

Figure 1. These images show the cumulative days of surface melting (left) and anomalies in the number of melt days (right) for May 2014 (31 days). Anomalies are compared to the period 1981 to 2010. Data are from the Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

The 2014 melt season began with a moderately fast start in the southernmost part of the Greenland Ice Sheet in May, on smaller, separate ice caps, and on snow-covered land in the far northeastern part of the island. The early pace of melting was below average for the western coast and most of the southeastern coast, but 4 to 8 days ahead of the normal pace in the far southern ice cap area near the capital of Nuuk.

Conditions in context

plot of surface melt extent

Figure 2a. The graph above shows the daily extent of melt during May 2014 on the Greenland Ice Sheet surface as a percentage. The 1981 to 2010 average is shown by a blue dashed line. The gray area around this average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Data are from the Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

Graph of temperature anomalies

Figure 2b. Mean air temperature for May at the 700 millibar level (about 10,000 feet or 3,200 meters altitude). Temperatures for the month were cool over the majority of Greenland.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, courtesy NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Melting extended over about 10% of Greenland during a brief mid-May warm period in the far south, and then climbed again as the month came to a close. As of this writing in mid-June 2014, melting has rapidly expanded to 30% of Greenland’s ice sheet, and at present favors the western and northern Greenland coast after little activity there in May. Greenland’s weather in May was characterized by cool conditions over the northern two-thirds of the island, but in the south, temperatures were approximately 1 degree Celsius warmer than average for the month, relative to the 1981 to 2010 reference period.

Higher temperatures and a period of light easterly and northeasterly winds in mid-May favored a rapid start to the melt season in southern Greenland. The pattern of melting on the ice sheet, and the timing of melt events, agrees well with the MAR model produced by X. Fettweis at Université de Liège.

 

 

Darkening snow

graph of albedo

Figure 3. This graph shows the mean albedo (reflectivity fraction) of the Greenland Ice Sheet for areas of the ice sheet with an elevation greater than 2,000 meters above sea level. The blue line and blue diamonds show albedo from satellite data. The black line and dots show albedo from a snow model with clean snow, and its evolution under observed summer May and June temperatures. Also shown is the difference between these estimates (red line and diamonds). Modified from Dumont et al., 2014.

Credit: M. Dumont/Météo-France–CNRS, courtesy Nature Geoscience
High-resolution image

A recent research paper by scientists at Météo-France and other French climate science institutions (Dumont et al., 2014) shows that a significant and abrupt shift in albedo took place in 2009. They hypothesize that the increase is due to a persistent increase in the amount of soot or dust in new-fallen snow over the island. This is based on satellite observations of the albedo by the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). When compared to models of the expected reflectivity of clean snow under the summer conditions, the recent satellite observations show that snow over Greenland is darker than can be explained by warm temperatures and coarser snow grains.

Samples of snow from Greenland in recent years favor the idea that dust is the main cause of the darkening. Other studies confirm that the darkening at high elevation (where the impact of a change in dry new-fallen snow would be significant) is about 2%. For clean new snow, a 2% decrease in reflectivity (for example, from 90% to 88%) represents a 15 to 20 percent increase in energy absorption (from 10% to 12%). With a somewhat darker, less pure incoming snowfall, the amount of energy from the sun that the snow absorbs increases, leading to earlier melt, more pronounced melt run-off, and later re-freezing of the ice sheet surface.

Lengthening melt

plot of melt extent

Figure 4. These graphics show trends in how the start (top image) and end (bottom image) of melt season are changing for Greenland. Trends are given in days change per decade. Positive values (red colors) mean that the event is happening later in the year; negative values (blue colors) mean that the event is happening earlier in the year. Data are from the Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

The trend identified by our colleagues in Figure 3 is underscored when we look at the trend in the date of the beginning of melt (melt onset, top image in Figure 4) and the date that the snow and ice finally re-freeze at the end of the season (freeze-up, lower image in Figure 4). Melt day data from 1978 to 2013 show a pronounced trend toward a longer melt season. Melt onset has started 4 to 12 days earlier per decade over this 35 year period (shown by the blue colors). A few areas at high elevation have shown later onset, perhaps due to increasing accumulation of snow at high elevation in Greenland. The end of the melt season, or freeze-up date, has pushed later into the autumn by 8 to 16 days per decade, particularly along the southwestern coast and east-central areas.

Further reading

Dumont, M., E. Brun, G. Picard, M. Michou, Q. Libois, J.-R. Petit, M. Geyer, S. Morin, and B. Josse. 2014. Contribution of light-absorbing impurities in snow to Greenland’s darkening since 2009. Nature Geoscience, doi:10.1038/NGEO2180.

Mote, T., and M. Anderson. 1995. Variations in snowpack melt on the Greenland ice sheet based on passive-microwave measurements. Journal of Glaciology, vol 41, pp 51-60.

2013 in review; 2014 melt begins

The Greenland Ice Sheet had a far more typical melt extent and intensity in 2013 than in 2012, when summer surface melting set a record, compared to satellite observations since 1978. After the normal winter hiatus, the 2014 melting season has now begun again along the southern Greenland coastal areas. We will review the early progress of the 2014 season in our next post, in mid-June.

Overview of conditions

Greenland melt anomaly images

Figure 1. These maps show melt anomalies, or how the number of melt days in each year compared to the average number of melt days as recorded by satellite observations from 1981 to 2010. While 2012 set records for melt extent (center), and 2011 showed strong melt anomalies along the coasts (left), 2013 melt days were within a more typical range, on average (right). Data are from the Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

Figure 1 shows the cumulative number of days that the Greenland Ice Sheet experienced surface melting during 2013 (right image), along with comparison images for 2011 and for 2012, the record year for melt days.

Overall, 2013 melt intensity, expressed as the number of melt days relative to the 1981 to 2010 average, was slightly to moderately higher than average in the southern and western Greenland Ice Sheet but unusually low along the northern and northeastern coastal areas.

In particular, surface melt did not extend to the higher-elevation interior regions in the north as much as has been typical for the 1981 to 2010 period. A narrow band along the eastern coastline showed significantly greater than average melting, but here as well the surface melt conditions did not extend inland and uphill as they have in recent years.

Conditions in context

Figure 2. The graph above shows the daily extent of melt during 2012 on the Greenland Ice Sheet surface as a percentage, compared to the average from 1981 to 2010. Data are from the Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record. About the data||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia|High-resolution image

Figure 2. The graph above shows the daily extent of melt during 2013 on the Greenland Ice Sheet surface as a percentage. The 1981 to 2010 average is shown by a blue dashed line. The gray area around this average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Data are from the Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

In contrast to 2012, the extent of melt was also closer to average during 2013, compared to the period 1981 to 2010.

Extensive melting began slightly later than usual, toward the end of May, but increased rapidly to above-average levels by mid June. A brief reduction in late June and early July was followed by a late-season re-advance in melt area in late July.

 

2013 compared to previous years

Figure 3. Melt extent departure from the average for 1978 to 2013. The area represented by the bars is the sum of the daily melt extent for June, July, and August of each year, with the average subtracted. This highlights the trend in melt, and the scale of past anomalous years. ||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/T. Mote, University of Georgia|  High-resolution image

Figure 3. Melt extent departure from the average for 1978 to 2013. The area represented by the bars is the sum of the daily melt extent for June, July, and August of each year, with the average subtracted. This highlights the trend in melt, and the scale of past anomalous years.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/T. Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

The 2013 summer in Greenland also saw a reversal of the recent trend in summertime loss of surface snow and ice mass by run-off, as would be expected given the reduced melting. Figure 3 illustrates the relative melt area departure from the average (sum of the daily melt areas over the ice sheet for June, July, and August in each year, with the average area for 1978 to 2013 subtracted). The very large increase in 2012 is clearly shown, as is the return during 2013 to conditions typical of the late 1990s.

Climate conditions during 2013

Graph of NAO

Figure 4. This graph shows the North Atlantic Oscillation Index (NAO) for June through August, for the period 1950 to 2013 (blue dashed line) and running 5-year average (red line). 2013 saw a marked difference from recent years, with average conditions similar to the 1990s and earlier.

Credit: Xavier Fettweis, University of Liège
High-resolution image

Figure 5.

Figure 5. This plot shows air pressure anomalies (left) and air temperature anomalies (right) at the 700 mb level for June to August 2013.

Credit: Courtesy NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division
High-resolution image

Figure 7.

Figure 6. This graph shows anomalies for June through August for total meltwater runoff (blue), snowfall accumulation (red), and net surface mass balance (SMB, green) over the Greenland Ice Sheet from 1960 to 2013, compared to the period 1980 to 1999. The data are from the Modèle Atmosphérique Régional (MAR model), v3.3, and are in gigatons per year. MAR was run at a resolution of 15 kilometers and forced at its lateral boundaries by the ERA-40 reanalysis over 1958-1978 and ERA-Interim afterward.

Credit: Xavier Fettweis, University of Liège
High-resolution image

Weather patterns were significantly different over Greenland during 2013 compared to 2012,  when high temperatures led to extensive melt. A dominant Arctic climate pattern, the North Atlantic Oscillation (Figure 4), was in its positive phase for the summer months (June through August) of 2013, sharply contrasting with a trend that had held for the previous six summers. As discussed in NSIDC Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis on September 17, 2013, the positive phase of the NAO favors anticyclonic circulation over Greenland. The NAO generally produces warm and dry conditions over Europe and is associated with cooler and higher-precipitation conditions in Greenland and the central Arctic.

Consistent with this, lower-than-average air pressures (Figure 5, left) were observed over Greenland during the 2013 summer, as well as lower temperatures (Figure 5, right). Air temperatures over Greenland were 0.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (1 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) below the 1981 to 2010 averages. Precipitation was also higher in summer 2013.

Figure 6 shows the pattern of total snowfall anomaly (the amount of snowfall relative to the average amount for 1980 to 1999); the meltwater runoff anomaly (the amount of mass lost to water runoff relative to the 1980 to 1999 average); and the net balance between snowfall and runoff (and evaporation of snow, a minor component of loss) called the surface mass balance (SMB), as calculated by the MAR regional climate model. Highlighted in this graphic are the major ice mass losses of the twelve years preceding 2013. Note that this accounting does not include ice that flows directly into the sea by glacier movement.

Pale by comparison

albedo image

Figure 7. This map shows average summer albedo anomaly for 2013 versus the 2000 to 2011 average, determined by satellite mapping. Data are from the NASA Terra satellite and the MODIS sensor (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer). The data set is the MOD10A1 collection, available from NSIDC. MODIS MOD10A1 data.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Jason Box, Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS)
High-resolution image

During summer 2013, the albedo of the Greenland ice sheet surface was higher along the coastal part of the ice sheet than in recent years, indicating less wet snow and snow-free bare ice areas (ablation areas) along the ice sheet perimeter.

Reflectivity is highly variable on an ice sheet: dry snow is the brightest surface cover, above 85% reflectivity, (or, expressed on the 0 to 1 scale, albedo); wet snow has an albedo of about 0.6 to 0.8; coarse wet snow and slush is about 0.4 to 0.5; impurity rich bare ice with no snow cover has an albedo of 0.3; and clear deep water is near 0.10. As fresh snow ages, the grains become coarser and the albedo drops by as much as 10%. Melting in the snowpack has an even more dramatic effect, lowering reflectivity by up to 20%.

With less exposed bare ice near the coasts, the solar reflectance of these regions is higher than the recent average. In the interior, during 2013 summer snowfall events were widely spaced in time over the ice sheet interior, and so the snow surface tended to be older and therefore a bit darker than average.  

More to come

sample images

Figure 8. These images show the new derivative data sets for the Mote Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record data set. The lower left and diagonal panels show average annual and average monthly melt days extent maps, respectively, for the 1981 to 2010 climatology period melt season months April through September. The upper right image shows daily melt extent for 2012, including the two standard deviation range for the 1981 to 2010 period.

High-resolution image

Our next post will examine the early progress of the melt season. In the interim, new supporting data sets and analysis tools have been derived from the melt extent archives that will present a more complete picture of the melt season in 2014.

Several new data sets and graphic upgrades were generated since late September 2013. These changes are summarized in Figure 8 and include an analysis of a 30-year record of daily melt extent spanning the climatological reference period 1981 to 2010, as measured by the Mote melt algorithm (Mote, 2007). The 1981 to 2010 average is shown as a blue dashed line, and the gray area around this average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Annual and monthly average melt day maps were also generated, allowing an assessment of the impact of weather events and the trends of melt extent and intensity in various areas.

Resources for analysis of trends and variations for the Greenland Today website will continue to expand as funding permits. We aim to build an interactive analysis tool similar to our Sea Ice Index web pages and to make daily data available as with the Sea Ice News and Analysis web pages. We are presently working on a table of results for the melt days and extents.

References

Fettweis, X., 2007. Reconstruction of the 1979-2006 Greenland ice sheet surface mass balance using the regional climate model MAR. The Cryosphere, 1, 21-40, doi:10.5194/tc-1-21-2007.  See also: https://www.aoncadis.org/dataset/CPL_MAR.html.

Hall, D. K., V. V. Salomonson, and G. A. Riggs. 2006. MODIS/Terra Snow Cover Daily L3 Global 500m Grid. Version 5. Boulder, Colorado USA: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Mote, T. L., 2007. Greenland surface melt trends 1973–2007: Evidence of a large increase in 2007. Geophysical Research Letters 34, L22507, doi:10.1029/ 2007GL031976.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Xavier Fettweis of the University of Liege, Belgium, and Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) for their contributions to this post.

 

 

 

Late season warmth extends 2013 Greenland melt season…briefly

Greenland’s surface ice melt season reached a peak in late July, coinciding with a period of very warm weather. Greenland’s melt season this year will be closer to average than was 2012, with far less melting in the northern ice sheet and at high elevations. Nevertheless, an all-time record high temperature for Greenland may have been set in 2013.

Overview of conditions

Figure 1. Cumulative Greenland melt days image for 21 July – 19 August (30 days). This period spans the peak melt extents seen this year.

Figure 1. Cumulative surface melt days for July 21 to August 19, 2013 (30 days). This period spans the peak melt extents seen this year. Note that the color scale is 0 to 30 days, rather than 0 to 100 days for the daily figure. Data are from the Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record.
About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

Surface melt on the Greenland ice sheet spread to the northern coastal regions and became especially frequent in the far northeastern corner of the island (Kronprins Christians Land). However, while some high-melt-extent years recently have seen elevations above 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) warm to the melting point, this rarely occurred in 2013, nor was there extensive melt in the northern interior portion of the ice sheet. A small region of the northwestern ice sheet, the drainage areas of Peterman and Humbolt glaciers, saw some inland melting. (However, some of these dark red pixels are mixed land areas, including ice plus rock and permanently frozen ground.) Melt lakes were prevalent along the central western coast in 2013 (as is typical of most seasons) but far less extensive in the northeastern and northwestern regions than in 2012. Melt lakes in Greenland may be seen in NASA Rapid Response-MODIS Arctic Subset images.

Conditions in context

plot

Figure 2a. The graph above shows the daily percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet surface that has shown melt, as of August 19, 2013 (red), along with the daily surface melt extent for 2012 (blue) and the average melt extent for 1981 to 2010 (dashed line). Two peak extent days are noted.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

Figure2a: Greenland melt extent data comparison for 2012 and 2013 to date. Two peak extent days are noted. Figure 2b:Melt extent map for the peak melt extent day to date this year, July 26.

Figure 2b. The map shows the melt extent for July 26, 2013, the peak melt extent date so far this year. Data are from the Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record. About the data

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

The period between July 21 and August 19 (Figure 1) included the greatest percentage of surface melt extent days for Greenland during 2013, peaking at 44% on July 26 (Figure 2b). However, the overall melt extent for 2012 was far greater, exceeding 40% for several weeks (Figure 2a). Data posted by Xavier Fettweis at the University of Liège using a different melt algorithm (see their Figure 4) show that melt day frequency is slightly greater than average for northwestern Greenland near the coast (2 to 8 more melt days than average for the reference period, 1980-2011), and significantly greater than average for northeastern Greenland (8 to 16 days more). According to the MAR (Modèle Atmosphérique Régional) regional climate model, the main melt anomalies in 2013 have occurred along the northeast coast. These anomalies are also indicated in the satellite data, by red pixels in Figure 1. This has been due to the lower winter snowfall than average (resulting in a lower albedo) combined with warmer than average summer temperatures. However, the majority of the ice sheet showed mild to moderately lower-than-average melt duration for this season.

Warm temperatures for Greenland: Maniitsoq, July 30

Figure 3: Weather pattern map for Greenland and northeastern Canada, July 30, 2013 (top) and melt area map for July 31 (below left) and August 1 (below right). Strong southeasterly winds across the western coast brought very warm conditions to that region. The weather graphic was produced by Gorm Larsen for the Danish Meteorological Institute. See: http://www.dmi.dk/nyheder/arkiv/nyheder-2013/8/groenland-saetter-temperaturrekord/. Note that the question of a record warmest temperature for Greenland is still being resolved.

Figure 3: Weather pattern map for Greenland and northeastern Canada, July 30, 2013 (top) and melt area map for July 31 (below left) and August 1 (below right). Strong southeasterly winds across the western coast brought very warm conditions to that region. Note that the question of a record warmest temperature for Greenland is still being resolved. The weather map was produced by Gorm Larsen for the Danish Meteorological Institute.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Danish Meteorological Institute
High-resolution image

A pattern of strong southerly winds in late July brought very warm temperatures to southwestern Greenland, possibly the warmest air temperature ever recorded on Greenland since 1958 (when extensive accurate records began). Temperatures at the small hamlet of Maniitsoq were measured at 25.9 degrees Celsius (78.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on July 30. These conditions were in part due to the downhill flow of the air off the western side of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Downhill air flow warms the air as a result of its compression as it goes to lower altitude (foehn or chinook effect). This weather event also led to a large region of melt along the western part of the ice shelf on July 31 and August 1, and the second-highest area of melt this year.

Three summers at Summit

Figure 4. The graph shows Summit, Greenland temperatures for 2011 (purple), 2012 (red), and 2013 to date (green). ||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Christopher Shuman and Michael Schnaubelt, UMBC JCET and Thomas Mefford, CIRES/NOAA |High-resolution image

Figure 4. The graph shows Summit, Greenland temperatures for 2011 (purple), 2012 (red), and 2013 to date (green).

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Christopher Shuman and Michael Schnaubelt, UMBC JCET and Thomas Mefford, CIRES/NOAA
High-resolution image

Summit is a research station located at the highest point on the Greenland Ice Sheet, at 3,216 meters (10,551 feet) above sea level. Above-freezing air temperatures were observed there by NOAA sensors for the first time in 2012, although ice cores indicate rare melting events in past centuries. The years preceding and following 2012 show more typical temperature conditions. Figure 4 shows a plot of temperatures recorded at the NOAA observatory at Summit, Greenland. The daily oscillation is a result of a day-night cycle. Although the sun remains above the horizon for much of the summer at Summit, it drops very low in the sky during evening hours and temperatures drop. Research shows that surface melting detectable by remote sensing (see Figures 1 and 2) can begin a degree or two Celsius (2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit) below freezing due to solar heat absorption by the snow. (Thanks to Chris Shuman, University of Maryland Baltimore County with the support of the NASA Cryospheric Sciences Program, for this part of the discussion.)

Springtime melt in Greenland: Late start, rapid spread

Surface melting of the snow and ice of the Greenland Ice Sheet had a slightly late start, but quickly spread over a significant area, extending over more than 20% of the ice sheet in early June and reaching above 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) elevation in some areas. Small melt lakes have begun to form on the ice sheet, as seen by the new USGS/NASA Landsat-8 satellite.

Overview of conditions

Cumulative melt days for mid-May to mid-June in Greenland using the Mote method of determination of melt from satellite microwave data. Note that the color scale is 0 to 30 days, rather than 0 to 120 days for the daily figure. Lower figure shows the percent of the Greenland ice sheet that had some surface melting for each day of 2013 up to June 19th.

Figure 1. Cumulative surface melt days for mid-May to mid-June in Greenland. Note that the color scale is 0 to 30 days, rather than 0 to 100 days for the daily figure. Data are from the Greenland Daily Surface Melt 25km EASE-Grid 2.0 Climate Data Record. About the data


Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

After the annual re-calibration of the melt algorithm in mid March (see March 18 post), very little melt was detected until May. A few southern coastal areas began melting in mid-May, followed by inland higher-elevation ice and all remaining coastal areas about June 3, when warmer conditions arrived. Surface melting reached the “Saddle” region of the ice sheet (located where the pale bluish band extends from the east to the west coastal zones in Figure 1) on June 11 and 13. Only the central eastern coast remains relatively melt free.

Conditions in context

Figure 2. The graph above shows the daily percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet surface that has shown melt, as of June 18, 2013 (red), along with the average surface melt extent for 1981 to 2010 (blue). ||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia |High-resolution image

Figure 2. The graph above shows the daily percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet surface that has shown melt, as of June 19, 2013 (red), along with the average surface melt extent for 1981 to 2010 (blue).

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center/Thomas Mote, University of Georgia
High-resolution image

At this point, the pace of melt is well above average, but well behind the early, intense start seen in the record 2012 season (see February 5 post).

After a spike in melt area in early June, cooler conditions have brought the melt area near the average extent of ~20% of the ice sheet.

 Rising temperatures

Figure 3

Figure 3: These images show temperature anomaly over Greenland at the 850 millibar level (approximately 1,500 meters, or 5,000 feet above sea level)  for May 15 to May 25 (top) and for June 5th to June 15, 2013, compared to the averages from 1981 to 2010. Temperatures were lower than average during May, then shifted to higher than average along the coasts in June.

Credit: Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA/ESRL PSD
High-resolution image

Cool conditions in April and May shifted to warmer-than-average weather along both coasts in early June, which initiated more widespread melt on the ice sheet. This shift roughly coincided with a larger change in the Arctic Oscillation from near-neutral conditions to slightly positive, and a shift from generally easterly and northerly winds to southwesterlies. The sea ice on both sides of Greenland remained at near-normal extent through the period.

Landsat 8 Images of early melt lakes

Figure 4. True-color Landsat 8 image of west-central Greenland near 69.9deg N, 51.0 deg W acquired on June 12 (just north of Jakobshavn Isbrae, Landsat acquisition location Path 11, Row 11). The image shows glaciers, coastal bedrock and nunataks, and several small fjords. White areas on the right side of the scene are winter snow (still melting away); light blue and grey areas are exposed ice where the 2012-2013 winter snow has melted away; deeper blue pockets are small incipient melt lakes.

Figure 4. This image from Landsat 8 shows melt ponds forming on the Greenland Ice Sheet. White areas on the right side of the scene are winter snow (still melting away); light blue and grey areas are exposed ice where the 2012-2013 winter snow has melted away; deeper blue pockets are small incipient melt lakes. Glaciers, coastal bedrock, several small fjords, and rocky crags (called nunataks) can also be seen in this true-color Landsat 8 image of west-central Greenland near 69.9 deg N, 51.0 deg W, acquired on June 12, 2013 (just north of Jakobshavn Isbrae, Landsat acquisition location Path 11, Row 11).

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, USGS/NASA Landsat 8
High-resolution image

Melt ponds are already forming in some lower areas of the ice sheet, as shown in Figure 4. Ponds of meltwater on the ice sheet can have a significant impact on ice flow. As the ponds grow and deepen, they can force open cracks in the underlying ice and drain to the base of the ice sheet. This can lubricate the base of the glacier, causing it to flow more rapidly for a brief period. The drained water flows out under the ice sheet, emerging as small streams from beneath the ice at the edge.

This image was acquired by the recently launched USGS/NASA Landsat 8 satellite, using its multi-spectral camera, the Operational Land Imager (OLI). Landsat 8 offers great opportunities for mapping and measurement of the world’s ice and its ongoing changes.  One improvement in the new sensor is the addition of a new spectral band, in the far blue visible range. This band (Band 1) may be useful for mapping lake area and depth. Knowing the total lake volume and rate of lake volume change is an important parameter for characterizing the intensity of the melt season and its potential effect on the rate of ice flow and surface melting for the ice sheet.

A report from the field

Figure 5: This photograph of melt runoff was taken near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland the week of June 17.

Figure 5: This photograph of melt runoff was taken near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland the week of June 17.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy Asa Rennermalm, Rutgers University
High-resolution version

With summer beginning, many Greenland researchers are now in the field, and reporting back on observed surface melting conditions. Thomas Mote from University of Georgia, who is in the Kangerlussuaq area with Asa Rennermalm of Rutgers University, reports indications that there was a fairly warm late winter, a cool spring, and heavy snow in May. This area has experienced strong melting, but much of it is the melting of the late spring snowfall. There is word of a 1-kilometer (0.6 mile) long meltwater lake about 7 kilometers (4 miles) inland on the ice east of Kanger. They did observe some fairly large meltwater streams and moulins.

A darker shade of pale

Figure 6. These color maps show average summer (June, July, and August) albedo for Greenland in 2000 and 2012. Albedo dropped by as much as 0.3 in some areas. The color scale ranges from caramine red (albedo of 1.0) to purple (albedo of 0.0); in the graphics above, the approximate observed range is 0.85 to 0.05. Coastal area albedos are typically below 0.15 (e.g. the western coastal area), and fresh dry powder snow is >0.90 (southeastern ice sheet in the 2000 image). Data are derived from NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites using the Moderate Resolution Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors. ||Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center|High-resolution image

Figure 6. These color maps show average summer (June, July, and August) albedo for Greenland in 2000 and 2012. Albedo dropped by as much as 0.3 in some areas. The color scale ranges from caramine red (albedo of 1.0) to purple (albedo of 0.0); in the graphics above, the approximate observed range is 0.85 to 0.05. Coastal area albedos are typically below 0.15 (e.g. the western coastal area), and fresh dry powder snow is >0.90 (southeastern ice sheet in the 2000 image). Data are derived from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites using the Moderate Resolution Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors.

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
High-resolution image

Surface melting on the ice sheet reduces the reflectivity of the snow, and this change is measured by albedo, the ratio of the amount of light reflected from a surface to the amount of incoming light. Over the past twelve summer seasons, surface melting has increased in Greenland, culminating with last year’s very extensive and intense melt season. Satellite data have been used to track this change in a recently submitted paper by Stroeve et al. (2013, in revision), showing that albedo has dropped by as much as 0.3 (30% reflectivity) in some areas.

Dry cold snow is the most reflective naturally occurring land cover type on Earth, with albedos as high as 0.95, but as melting begins, this drops to 0.70, and continues to drop with increased melt. Very wet snow has an albedo of 0.6 to 0.5, and exposed ice can be as low as 0.3. This darkening of a snow surface with the onset and progression of melt leads to an important climate feedback. With warm conditions, melting and darker snow leads to more sunlight absorbed by the snow, leading to further melting and darkening.

A note on the data

We thank our readers for writing us with useful suggestions to include more historical data on surface melt, as well as other statistical information. We are working to add such information as time and funding permit.

Reference

Stroeve, J., J. Box, Z. Wang, A. Barrett, and C. Schaaf. 2013. Re-evaluation of MODIS Greenland albedo accuracy and trends. Remote sensing of the environment, in revision.