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Estimates of Ice Sheet Mass Balance from Satellite Altimetry: Past and FutureA major uncertainty in predicting sea level rise is the sensitivity of ice sheet mass balance to climate change, as well as the uncertainty in present mass balance. Since the annual water exchange is about 8 mm of global sea level equivalent, the 20% uncertainty in current mass balance corresponds to 1.6 mm/yr in sea level change. Furthermore, estimates of the sensitivity of the mass balance to temperature change range from perhaps as much as - 10% to + 10% per K. A principal purpose of obtaining ice sheet elevation changes from satellite altimetry has been estimation of the current ice sheet mass balance. Limited information on ice sheet elevation change and their implications about mass balance have been reported by several investigators from radar altimetry (Seasat, Geosat, ERS-1&2). Analysis of ERS-1&2 data over Greenland for 7 years from 1992 to 1999 shows mixed patterns of ice elevation increases and decreases that are significant in terms of regional-scale mass balances. Observed seasonal and interannual variations in ice surface elevation are larger than previously expected because of seasonal and interannUal variations in precipitation, melting, and firn compaction. In the accumulation zone, the variations in firn compaction are modeled as a function of temperature leaving variations in precipitation and the mass balance trend. Significant interannual variations in elevation in some locations, in particular the difference in trends from 1992 to 1995 compared to 1995 to 1999, can be explained by changes in precipitation over Greenland. Over the 7 years, trends in elevation are mostly positive at higher elevations and negative at lower elevations. In addition, trends for the winter seasons (from a trend analysis through the average winter elevations) are more positive than the corresponding trends for the summer. At lower elevations, the 7-year trends in some locations are strongly negative for summer and near zero or slightly positive for winter. These observations also demonstrate the potential for relating the variability in mass balance to changes in precipitation, temperature, and melting. Beginning in January 2002, NASA's ICESat laser altimeter mission will provide significantly better elevation accuracy and spatial coverage to 86E latitude and to the margins of the ice sheets.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Zwally, H. Jay
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD United States)
Zukor, Dorothy J.
Date Acquired
August 20, 2013
Publication Date
January 5, 2001
Subject Category
Meteorology And Climatology
Meeting Information
European Geophysical Society Meeting(Nice)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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