Climate modification by future ice sheet changes and consequences for ice sheet mass balance

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The future evolution of global ice sheets under anthropogenic greenhouse forcing and its impact on the climate system, including the regional climate of the ice sheets, are investigated with a comprehensive earth system model consisting of a coupled Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Model, a dynamic vegetation model and an ice sheet model. The simulated control climate is realistic enough to permit a direct coupling of the atmosphere and ice sheet components, avoiding the use of anomaly coupling, which represents a strong improvement with respect to previous modelling studies. Glacier ablation is calculated with an energy-balance scheme, a more physical approach than the commonly used degree-day method. Modifications of glacier mask, topographic height and freshwater fluxes by the ice sheets influence the atmosphere and ocean via dynamical and thermodynamical processes. Several simulations under idealized scenarios of greenhouse forcing have been performed, where the atmospheric carbon dioxide stabilizes at two and four times pre-industrial levels. The evolution of the climate system and the ice sheets in the simulations with interactive ice sheets is compared with the simulations with passively coupled ice sheets. For a four-times CO2 scenario forcing, a faster decay rate of the Greenland ice sheet is found in the non-interactive case, where melting rates are higher. This is caused by overestimation of the increase in near-surface temperature that follows the reduction in topographic height. In areas close to retreating margins, melting rates are stronger in the interactive case, due to changes in local albedo. Our results call for careful consideration of the feedbacks operating between ice sheets and climate after substantial decay of the ice sheets.


  • M. Vizcaino
  • U. Mikolajewicz
  • J. Jungclaus
  • Guy Schurgers
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Physical Geography


  • Ice sheets, Feedbacks in the climate, system, Meridional overturning circulation, Earth system modelling, Anthropogenic climate change
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-324
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Publication categoryResearch