Dynamic regimes of the Greenland Ice Sheet emerging from interacting melt–elevation and glacial isostatic adjustment feedbacks


The stability of the Greenland Ice Sheet under global warming is governed by a number of dynamic processes and interacting feedback mechanisms in the ice sheet, atmosphere and solid Earth. Here we study the long-term effects due to the interplay of the competing melt–elevation and glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) feedbacks for different temperature step forcing experiments with a coupled ice-sheet and solid-Earth model.

Our model results show that for warming levels above 2∘C, Greenland could become essentially ice-free within several millennia, mainly as a result of surface melting and acceleration of ice flow. These ice losses are mitigated, however, in some cases with strong GIA feedback even promoting an incomplete recovery of the Greenland ice volume. We further explore the full-factorial parameter space determining the relative strengths of the two feedbacks: our findings suggest distinct dynamic regimes of the Greenland Ice Sheets on the route to destabilization under global warming – from incomplete recovery, via quasi-periodic oscillations in ice volume to ice-sheet collapse. In the incomplete recovery regime, the initial ice loss due to warming is essentially reversed within 50 000 years, and the ice volume stabilizes at 61%–93% of the present-day volume.

For certain combinations of temperature increase, atmospheric lapse rate and mantle viscosity, the interaction of the GIA feedback and the melt–elevation feedback leads to self-sustained, long-term oscillations in ice-sheet volume with oscillation periods between 74 000 and over 300 000 years and oscillation amplitudes between 15%–70% of present-day ice volume. This oscillatory regime reveals a possible mode of internal climatic variability in the Earth system on timescales on the order of 100 000 years that may be excited by or synchronized with orbital forcing or interact with glacial cycles and other slow modes of variability.

Our findings are not meant as scenario-based near-term projections of ice losses but rather providing insight into of the feedback loops governing the “deep future” and, thus, long-term resilience of the Greenland Ice Sheet.


Link to centre authors: Donges, Jonathan
Publication info: Zeitz, M., Haacker, J., Donges, J., Albrecht, T., Winkelmann, R. 2022. Dynamic regimes of the Greenland Ice Sheet emerging from interacting melt–elevation and glacial isostatic adjustment feedbacks. Earth System Dynamics. http://dx.doi.org/10.5194/esd-13-1077-2022