German Research Foundation (DFG): MO 2653/1-1 (2013-2016)

German Research Foundation (DFG): MO 2653/1-2 (2016-2017)



Svalbard Science Forum RiS ID: 6726



Svalbard Ice Mass Evolution in past and future - Climate forcing and Teleconnection

Climate Change and Glacier Retreat in the Arctic

Climate change is one of the major challenges humanity has to face during the 21st century. Its effects are numerous with increased mass loss from glaciers outside the large ice sheets and their substantial contribution to sea level-rise being among the most prominent. In this context, Arctic glaciers and ice caps are especially important due to their extensive ice volume and due to their large surface area that acts as a contact surface to climate and oceanic forcing and thus to climate change itself. As the Arctic is, moreover, the region of highest predicted future air-temperature increases the importance of Arctic ice masses for sea-level rise is expected to continue or even increase in the future.

Our Study Area Svalbard

The major Arctic ice bodies surround the Arctic Ocean at similar latitudes, but they show an inhomogeneous behavior in recent times. This suggests a spatial variability of the climate and ocean forcing mechanisms of glacier mass balance throughout the circum-Arctic regions and thus reveals the diversity of the influences of climate change. Regarding the variability of forcing mechanisms, Svalbard shows the most unique location in the Arctic. It is situated at the intersection between the cold polar air masses and ocean waters and the influences of the West Spitsbergen Current, which is the major warm-water conveyor to the Arctic environmental system. Studying the glacier response to climate and ocean-forcing variability on the Svalbard archipelago therefore promises to yield major insights into the complex causal chain from climate change over the variability of Arctic climate and ocean conditions to the response of the Arctic land-ice masses.

Studying the Mass Balance of the Glaciers

The aim of the project was to achieve a reliable estimate of the spatial and temporal variability of climatic mass balance of all glaciers and ice caps of Svalbard and to link this variability to climate and ocean forcing. To reach this aim, a spatially distributed climatic mass balance model was set up that was driven by statistically downscaled climate data. The mass balance was then modeled for all glacierized areas of Svalbard for the period 1948-2013 and the time-varying fields of ablation, accumulation, refreezing and climatic mass balance were used as the basis for further geostatistical studies afterwards. These studies identified and analyzed potential influences of the spatiotemporal variability of patterns of atmospheric pressure, sea-ice coverage and sea-surface temperatures on the glacier mass-balance variability on Svalbard. Teleconnections to distant modes of atmospheric circulation were also considered in these studies by analyzing the potential influences of specific atmospheric circulation indices.

Dr. Marco Möller
Dipl.-Geol. Rebecca Möller