Title: Combining models and observations to unravel past, present and future changes in ice sheet surface mass balance.

Abstract: Fluctuations in surface mass balance (SMB) mask out a substantial portion of contemporary Greenland and Antarctic ice sheet mass loss. That implies that we need accurate, consistent, and long-term SMB time series to isolate the mass loss signal. This in turn requires understanding of the processes driving SMB, and how they interplay. The primary controls on present-day ice sheet SMB are snowfall, which is regulated by large-scale atmospheric variability, and surface meltwater production at the ice sheet’s edges, which is a complex result of atmosphere-surface interactions. Additionally, wind-driven snow redistribution and sublimation are large SMB contributors on the downslope areas of the ice sheets. 

Climate models provide an integrated framework to simulate all these individual ice sheet components. Recent developments in RACMO2, a regional climate model bound by atmospheric reanalyses, have focused on enhancing horizontal resolution, including blowing snow, snow albedo, and meltwater processes. Including these physics not only enhanced our understanding of the ice sheet climate system, but also enabled to obtain increasingly accurate estimates of ice sheet SMB.

However, regional models are not suitable to capture the mutual interactions between ice sheet and the remainder of the global climate system in transient climates. To take that next step, global climate models are essential. In this talk, I will highlight our present work on improving ice sheet climate in the Community Earth System Model (CESM). In particular, we focus on an improved representation of polar firn, ice sheet clouds, and precipitation. For this exercise, we extensively use field observations, remote sensing data, as well as RACMO2. Next, I will highlight how CESM is used to enhance our understanding of ice sheet SMB, its drivers, and past and present changes.

Speaker Information


Jan Lenaerts


Assistant Professor


Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences


University of Colorado Boulder


Mathieu Morlighem

Date and Time: 

Friday, May 18, 2018 - 4:00pm


The Jenkins Room | Croul Hall 3101