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Greenland ice sheet variability and sensitivity to forcing during the warm Pliocene A numerical modeling study

Sebastian Jan Koenig, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The cryosphere and its interactions with other components of the climate system are considered to be major influences on global climate change through the Cenozoic and into the future. However, fundamental dynamics and secondary feedbacks that drive long-term ice sheet variability on Greenland remain poorly understood. Here, a numerical climate-ice sheet modeling study is conducted with the aim of reconstructing most likely locations, timing and variability of continental ice in the mid to late Pliocene and the transition into the Pleistocene. Simulations using the GENESIS v3 General Circulation Model coupled to the Penn State Ice Sheet-Shelf Model are compared with a range of independent numerical ice sheet model simulations under Pliocene boundary conditions and validated against available proxy reconstructions. This study aims at investigating the sensitivity of an ice-free and glaciated Greenland to changes in climate forcings, and the modulation of those forcings through internal feedbacks with focus on the dynamical thresholds involved in the growth and retreat of continental ice on Greenland. Orbital changes of latitudinal and seasonal solar radiation, in combination with prevalent atmospheric pCO2 levels, are found to pace the timing of the cryospheric response. Internal feedbacks invoked though local surface characteristics on Greenland in concert with far field changes in Arctic sea surface temperature and sea ice conditions control the energy and moisture budget on Greenland with consequences for its mass balance. In the Pliocene, inception of Greenland ice is inhibited during interglacials and ice volume is limited even when orbits are favorable for ice sheet growth. During Pliocene warmth, a present-day Greenland Ice Sheet cannot be maintained and ice was most likely restricted to the highest elevations in the East and South, contributing ∼6m of equivalent sea level rise. This assessment of the sensitivity and survivability of Greenland Ice Sheet in a warmer-than-modern world implies the potential for a long-term commitment to future sea level rise from a smaller Greenland Ice Sheet.

Subject Area

Climate Change|Paleoclimate Science|Atmospheric sciences

Recommended Citation

Koenig, Sebastian Jan, "Greenland ice sheet variability and sensitivity to forcing during the warm Pliocene A numerical modeling study" (2012). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3498351.