Multistability and critical thresholds of the Greenland ice sheet

Edited: 2012-03-19
TitleMultistability and critical thresholds of the Greenland ice sheet
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsRobinson, A., R. Calov, and A. Ganopolski
JournalNature Climate Change
Date Published03/2012
Keywordsclimate, ice, sea_level
AbstractRecent studies have focused on the short-term contribution of the Greenland ice sheet to sea-level rise, yet little is known about its long-term stability. The present best estimate of the threshold in global temperature rise leading to complete melting of the ice sheet is 3.1 °C (1.9–5.1 °C, 95% confidence interval) above the preindustrial climate1, determined as the temperature for which the modelled surface mass balance of the present-day ice sheet turns negative. Here, using a fully coupled model, we show that this criterion systematically overestimates the temperature threshold and that the Greenland ice sheet is more sensitive to long-term climate change than previously thought. We estimate that the warming threshold leading to a monostable, essentially ice-free state is in the range of 0.8–3.2 °C, with a best estimate of 1.6 °C. By testing the ice sheet’s ability to regrow after partial mass loss, we find that at least one intermediate equilibrium state is possible, though for sufficiently high initial temperature anomalies, total loss of the ice sheet becomes irreversible. Crossing the threshold alone does not imply rapid melting (for temperatures near the threshold, complete melting takes tens of millennia). However, the timescale of melt depends strongly on the magnitude and duration of the temperature overshoot above this critical threshold.
Short TitleNature Climate change