Present-day and future Antarctic ice sheet climate and surface mass balance in the Community Earth System Model

Jan T M Lenaerts*, Miren Vizcaino, Jeremy Fyke, Leo Van Kampenhout, Michiel R. van den Broeke

*Corresponding author for this work

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We present climate and surface mass balance (SMB) of the Antarctic ice sheet (AIS) as simulated by the global, coupled ocean–atmosphere–land Community Earth System Model (CESM) with a horizontal resolution of ∼ 1 in the past, present and future (1850–2100). CESM correctly simulates present-day Antarctic sea ice extent, large-scale atmospheric circulation and near-surface climate, but fails to simulate the recent expansion of Antarctic sea ice. The present-day Antarctic ice sheet SMB equals 2280 ± 131 Gtyear-1, which concurs with existing independent estimates of AIS SMB. When forced by two CMIP5 climate change scenarios (high mitigation scenario RCP2.6 and high-emission scenario RCP8.5), CESM projects an increase of Antarctic ice sheet SMB of about 70 Gtyear-1 per degree warming. This increase is driven by enhanced snowfall, which is partially counteracted by more surface melt and runoff along the ice sheet’s edges. This intensifying hydrological cycle is predominantly driven by atmospheric warming, which increases (1) the moisture-carrying capacity of the atmosphere, (2) oceanic source region evaporation, and (3) summer AIS cloud liquid water content.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1367-1381
Number of pages15
JournalClimate Dynamics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016


  • Antarctica
  • Climate change
  • Climate modelling
  • Ice sheets
  • Sea level
  • Surface mass balance


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