Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Increased future ice discharge from Antarctica owing to higher snowfall

Abstract

Anthropogenic climate change is likely to cause continuing global sea level rise1, but some processes within the Earth system may mitigate the magnitude of the projected effect. Regional and global climate models simulate enhanced snowfall over Antarctica, which would provide a direct offset of the future contribution to global sea level rise from cryospheric mass loss2,3 and ocean expansion4. Uncertainties exist in modelled snowfall5, but even larger uncertainties exist in the potential changes of dynamic ice discharge from Antarctica1,6 and thus in the ultimate fate of the precipitation-deposited ice mass. Here we show that snowfall and discharge are not independent, but that future ice discharge will increase by up to three times as a result of additional snowfall under global warming. Our results, based on an ice-sheet model7 forced by climate simulations through to the end of 2500 (ref. 8), show that the enhanced discharge effect exceeds the effect of surface warming as well as that of basal ice-shelf melting, and is due to the difference in surface elevation change caused by snowfall on grounded versus floating ice. Although different underlying forcings drive ice loss from basal melting versus increased snowfall, similar ice dynamical processes are nonetheless at work in both; therefore results are relatively independent of the specific representation of the transition zone. In an ensemble of simulations designed to capture ice-physics uncertainty, the additional dynamic ice loss along the coastline compensates between 30 and 65 per cent of the ice gain due to enhanced snowfall over the entire continent. This results in a dynamic ice loss of up to 1.25 metres in the year 2500 for the strongest warming scenario. The reported effect thus strongly counters a potential negative contribution to global sea level by the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Main mechanisms of dynamic ice loss.
Figure 2: Comparison of drivers of dynamic ice loss.
Figure 3: Time series of snowfall-induced ice loss.
Figure 4: Snowfall-induced ice loss compared to ice gain from precipitation and ice loss from warming only.

References

  1. Meehl, G. et al. in Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (eds Solomon, S. et al.) 747–845 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007)

  2. Huybrechts, P. et al. Response of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to multi-millennial greenhouse warming in the Earth system model of intermediate complexity LOVECLIM. Surv. Geophys. 32, 397–416 (2011)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Vizcaíno, M., Mikolajewicz, U., Jungclaus, J. & Schurgers, G. Climate modification by future ice sheet changes and consequences for ice sheet mass balance. Clim. Dyn. 34, 301–324 (2010)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Schewe, J., Levermann, A. & Meinshausen, M. Climate change under a scenario near 1.5°C of global warming: monsoon intensification, ocean warming and steric sea level rise. Earth Syst. Dyn. 2, 25–35 (2011)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Krinner, G., Magand, O., Simmonds, I., Genthon, C. & Dufresne, J. Simulated Antarctic precipitation and surface mass balance at the end of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Clim. Dyn. 28, 215–230 (2007)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Rignot, E., Velicogna, I., van den Broeke, M. R., Monaghan, A. & Lenaerts, J. Acceleration of the contribution of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to sea level rise. Geophys. Res. Lett.. 38, L05503, http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2011GL046583 (2011)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Winkelmann, R. et al. The Potsdam Parallel Ice Sheet Model (PISM-PIK). Part 1: Model description. Cryosphere 5, 715–726 (2011)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Frieler, K., Meinshausen, M., Mengel, M., Braun, N. & Hare, W. A scaling approach to probabilistic assessment of regional climate change. J. Clim. 25, 3117–3144 (2012)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Uotila, P., Lynch, A. H., Cassano, J. J. & Cullather, R. I. Changes in Antarctic net precipitation in the 21st century based on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) model scenarios. J. Geophys. Res.. 112, D10107, http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2006JD007482 (2007)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Larour, E., Rignot, E., Joughin, I. & Aubry, D. Rheology of the Ronne Ice Shelf, Antarctica, inferred from satellite radar interferometry data using an inverse control method. Geophys. Res. Lett.. 32, L05503, http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2004GL021693 (2005)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Dupont, T. K. & Alley, R. B. Assessment of the importance of ice-shelf buttressing to ice-sheet flow. Geophys. Res. Lett.. 32, L04503, http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2004GL022024 (2005)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Rignot, E. & Jacobs, S. S. Rapid bottom melting widespread near Antarctic ice sheet grounding lines. Science 296, 2020–2023 (2002)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Schoof, C. & Hindmarsh, R. C. A. Thin-film flows with wall slip: an asymptotic analysis of higher order glacier flow models. Q. J. Mech. Appl. Math. 63, 73–114 (2010)

    MathSciNet  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Meinshausen, M. et al. The RCP greenhouse gas concentrations and their extensions from 1765 to 2300. Clim. Change 109, 213–241 (2011)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Meehl, G. A. et al. THE WCRP CMIP3 multimodel dataset: a new era in climate change research. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 88, 1383–1394 (2007)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Meinshausen, M., Raper, S. C. B. & Wigley, T. M. L. Emulating IPCC AR4 atmosphere-ocean and carbon cycle models for projecting global-mean, hemispheric and land/ocean temperatures: MAGICC 6.0. Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss. 8, 6153–6272 (2008)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Olbers, D. & Hellmer, H. A box model of circulation and melting in ice shelf caverns. Ocean Dyn. 60, 141–153 (2010)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Dinniman, M. S., Klinck, J. M. & Smith, W. O. Influence of sea ice cover and icebergs on circulation and water mass formation in a numerical circulation model of the Ross Sea, Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res.. 112, C11013, http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2006JC004036 (2007)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Grosfeld, K. et al. in Ocean, Ice and Atmosphere: Interactions at Antarctic Continental Margin (eds Jacobs, S. S. & Weiss, R. ) 83–100 (AGU Antarctic Research Ser. Vol. 75, American Geophysical Union, 1998)

  20. Joughin, I. & Padman, L. Melting and freezing beneath Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett.. 30, 1477, http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2003GL016941 (2003)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Williams, M. J. M., Grosfeld, K., Warner, R. C., Gerdes, R. & Determann, J. Ocean circulation and ice-ocean interaction beneath the Amery Ice Shelf, Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 22383–22400 (2001)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Payne, A. J. et al. Numerical modeling of ocean-ice interactions under Pine Island Bay's ice shelf. J. Geophys. Res.. 112, C10019, http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2006JC003733 (2007)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Huybrechts, P. & Wolde, J. D. The dynamic response of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to multiple-century climatic warming. J. Clim. 12, 2169–2188 (1999)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Winkelmann, R., Levermann, A., Frieler, K. & Martin, M. A. Uncertainty in future solid ice discharge from Antarctica. Cryosphere Discuss. 6, 673–714 (2012)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Monaghan, A. J. et al. Insignificant change in Antarctic snowfall since the International Geophysical Year. Science 313, 827–831 (2006)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Le Brocq, A. M., Payne, A. J. & Vieli, A. An improved Antarctic dataset for high resolution numerical ice sheet models (ALBMAP v1). Earth Syst. Sci. Data 2, 247–260 (2010)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Martin, M. A. et al. The Potsdam Parallel Ice Sheet Model (PISM-PIK). Part 2: Dynamic equilibrium simulation of the Antarctic Ice Sheet. Cryosphere 5, 727–740 (2011)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. van Vuuren, D. et al. The representative concentration pathways: an overview. Clim. Change 109, 5–31 (2011)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Taylor, K., Stouffer, R. & Meehl, G. An overview of CMIP5 and the experiment design. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 485–498 (2012)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Walker, R. T., Dupont, T. K., Parizek, B. R. & Alley, R. B. Effects of basal-melting distribution on the retreat of ice-shelf grounding lines. Geophys. Res. Lett.. 35, L17503, http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2008GL034947 (2008)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Lenaerts, J. T. M. & van den Broeke, M. R. Modeling drifting snow in Antarctica with a regional climate model: 2. Results. J. Geophys. Res.. 117, D05109, http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2010JD015419 (2012)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This study was supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF, grant 01LP1171A) and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU, grant 11_II_093_Global_A_SIDS and LDCs).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

R.W. and A.L. designed and performed the research. M.A.M. contributed to the discussion of the results. K.F. provided the climate forcing. R.W. wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. Winkelmann.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Figures

This file contains Supplementary Figures 1 and 2. (PDF 723 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Winkelmann, R., Levermann, A., Martin, M. et al. Increased future ice discharge from Antarctica owing to higher snowfall. Nature 492, 239–242 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11616

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11616

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing