New Research: Atmospheric Rivers Impacting Greenland Ice

June 1, 2022

Video above from Jason Box discusses new published research examining a stunning heat and rain event that took place in Greenland last August. Rain was recorded for the first time at Summit Station, the ice sheet’s highest elevation.

European Space Agency:

For the first time ever recorded, in the late summer of 2021, rain fell on the high central region of the Greenland ice sheet. This extraordinary event was followed by the surface snow and ice melting rapidly. Researchers now understand exactly what went on in those fateful summer days and what we can learn from it.

The never-before-seen rainfall, on 14 August 2021, made headlines around the world. The upper-most parts of Greenland’s enormous ice cap used to be too cold for anything other than snow to fall, but not anymore.

What caused this extreme rainfall and how did it affect the ice?

Researchers from the Department of Glaciology and Climate at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) in collaboration with colleagues from France and Switzerland have scrutinised these questions and come up with the answers.

It didn’t only rain at Summit Camp – rain was measured by new automatic weather stations placed across the ice sheet by GEUS’ ice-sheet monitoring projects PROMICE and GC-Net.

Studying detailed data from these stations alongside measurements of surface reflectivity, or albedo, from the Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite mission and information on atmospheric circulation patterns, the researchers discovered that the rain had been preceded by a heatwave at a time of year when seasonal melting is usually slowing down.

“It turns out that the rain itself wasn’t the most important factor”, says Prof. Jason Box from GEUS and lead author of the paper reporting their results, which has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters.

“There is an irony. It’s not really the rain that did the damage to the snow and ice, it’s the darkening effect of the meltwater and how the heat from the event erased snow that had overlaid darker ice across the lower third of the ice sheet.

“Unusually warm atmospheric rivers swept along Greenland in the late summer months, bringing potent melt conditions when the melt season was drawing to a close.”

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