A New 200‐year Spatial Reconstruction of West Antarctic Surface Mass Balance

Antarctica consisted of a large Eastern ice sheet, a smaller Western ice sheet and the Antarctic peninsula. The Eastern ice sheet has been slightly gaining ice from 1992, but the Western ice sheet mass trend is more uncertain.

A new paper published in Geophysical Research: Atmospheres,  presents a reconstruction of the surface mass balance (SMB) over the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) spanning 1800-2010. The study is based on ice core records combined with a European reanalysis model and a regional climate model.

The results show a significant negative trend of -1.9 ± 2.2 Gt/yr over the WAIS during the 19th century but a significant positive trend of 5.4 ± 2.9 Gt/yr between 1900 and 2010. In contrast, the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) shows opposite SMB trends to the WAIS trends with different signs in the 19th and 20th centuries. The study compared the trends to large-scale atmospheric oscillations. The SMB in the AP and WAIS are significantly correlated with the Southern Annular Mode (the north–south movement of the westerly wind belt that circles Antarctica), but the correlations are unstable.


High‐spatial resolution surface mass balance (SMB) over the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) spanning 1800‐2010 is reconstructed by means of ice core records combined with the outputs of the European Centre for Medium‐range Weather Forecasts “Interim” reanalysis (ERA‐Interim) and the latest polar version of the Regional Atmospheric Climate Model (RACMO2.3p2). The reconstruction reveals a significant negative trend (‐1.9 ± 2.2 Gt yr‐1 decade‐1) in the SMB over the entire WAIS during the 19th century, but a statistically significant positive trend of 5.4 ± 2.9 Gt yr‐1 decade‐1 between 1900 and 2010, in contrast to insignificant WAIS SMB changes during the 20th century reported earlier. At regional scales, the Antarctic Peninsula (AP) and western WAIS show opposite SMB trends, with different signs in the 19th and 20th centuries. The annual resolution reconstruction allows us to examine the relationships between SMB and large‐scale atmospheric oscillations. Although SMB over the AP and western WAIS correlates significantly with the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) due to the influence of the Amundsen Sea Low (ASL) and El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) during 1800‐2010, the significant correlations are temporally unstable, associated with the phase of SAM, ENSO and the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO). In addition, the two climate modes seem to contribute little to variability in SMB over the whole WAIS on decadal‐centennial time scales. This new reconstruction also serves to identify unreliable precipitation trends in ERA‐Interim, and thus has potential for assessing the skill of other reanalyses or climate models to capture precipitation trends and variability.

This article appeared on the WattsUpWithThat? website at https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/05/06/a-new-200%e2%80%90year-spatial-reconstruction-of-west-antarctic-surface-mass-balance/