A Greener Greenland:
Anne de Vernal* and Claude Hillaire-Marcel
The response of the Greenland ice sheet to global warming is a source of concern notably because of its potential contribution to changes in the sea level. We demonstrated the natural vulnerability of the ice sheet by using pollen records from marine sediment off southwest Greenland that indicate important changes of the vegetation in Greenland over the past million years. The vegetation that developed over southern Greenland during the last interglacial period is consistent with model experiments, suggesting a reduced volume of the Greenland ice sheet. Abundant spruce pollen indicates that boreal coniferous forest developed some 400,000 years ago during the “warm” interval of marine isotope stage 11, providing a time frame for the development and decline of boreal ecosystems over a nearly ice-free Greenland.
Eric J. Steig and Alexander P. Wolfe
Pollen data suggest that the Greenland ice sheet was much smaller during previous warm periods.
Changes in Altitude
Michiel M. Helsen et al
Antarctic Ice Sheet elevation changes, which are used to estimate changes in the mass of the interior regions, are caused by variations in the depth of the firn layer. We quantified the effects of temperature and accumulation variability on firn layer thickness by simulating the 1980–2004 Antarctic firn depth variability. For most of Antarctica, the magnitudes of firn depth changes were comparable to those of observed ice sheet elevation changes. The current satellite observational period (15 years) is too short to neglect these fluctuations in firn depth when computing recent ice sheet mass changes. The amount of surface lowering in the Amundsen Sea Embayment revealed by satellite radar altimetry (1995–2003) was increased by including firn depth fluctuations, while a large area of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet slowly grew as a result of increased accumulation.
Kurt M. Cuffey
Estimating ice sheet mass changes from elevation surveys requires adjustments for snow density variations at the ice sheet surface.
Catia M. Domingues et al
Changes in the climate system’s energy budget are predominantly revealed in ocean temperatures and the associated thermal expansion contribution to sea-level rise. Climate models, however, do not reproduce the large decadal variability in globally averaged ocean heat content inferred from the sparse observational database even when volcanic and other variable climate forcings are included. The sum of the observed contributions has also not adequately explained the overall multi-decadal rise. Here we report improved estimates of near-global ocean heat content and thermal expansion for the upper 300 m and 700 m of the ocean for 1950–2003, using statistical techniques that allow for sparse data coverage and applying recent corrections to reduce systematic biases in the most common ocean temperature observations. Our ocean warming and thermal expansion trends for 1961–2003 are about 50 per cent larger than earlier estimates but about 40 per cent smaller for 1993–2003, which is consistent with the recognition that previously estimated rates for the 1990s had a positive bias as a result of instrumental errors. On average, the decadal variability of the climate models with volcanic forcing now agrees approximately with the observations, but the modelled multi-decadal trends are smaller than observed. We add our observational estimate of upper-ocean thermal expansion to other contributions to sea-level rise and find that the sum of contributions from 1961 to 2003 is about 1.5 (+/-0.4) mm yr-1, in good agreement with our updated estimate of near-global mean sea-level rise (using techniques established in earlier studies) of 1.6 (+/-0.2) mm yr-1.