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Interannual variability of elevation on the Greenland ice sheet: effects of firn densification, and establishment of a multi-century benchmark

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In order to interpret measurements of ice-sheet surface elevation changes in terms of climatic or dynamic trends, it is necessary to establish the range of stochastic variability of elevation changes resulting from interannual fluctuations of accumulation rate and firn density. The analyses presented here are intended to facilitate such interpretations by defining benchmarks that characterize elevation-change variability in central Greenland, in the current climate and over the past millennium. We use a time-dependent firn-densification model coupled to an ice- and heat-flow model, forced by annual accumulation rate and temperature reconstructions from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project II (GISP2) ice core, to examine the elevation changes resulting from this climatic forcing. From these results, effective firn densities are calculated. These are factors that convert water-equivalent accumulation-rate variability to surface elevation variability. A current-climate benchmark is defined by applying this conversion to Van der Veen and Bolzan's water-equivalent statistics, and to a 50 year accumulation variability estimate from the GISP2 core. Elevation-change statistics are compiled for the past millennium to define longer-term benchmarks, which show that multi-century variability has been substantially larger than current variability estimated by Van der Veen and Bolzan. It is estimated here that the standard deviation of net elevation change over 5 and 10 year intervals has been 0.27 and 0.38 m, respectively. An approximate method for applying these quantitative results to other dry-snow sites in Greenland is suggested.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2001-06-01

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.

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