Extreme melt on Canada's Arctic ice caps in the 21st century

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Abstract

[1] Canada's Queen Elizabeth Islands contain ∼14% of Earth's glacier and ice cap area. Snow accumulation on these glaciers is low and varies little from year to year. Changes in their surface mass balance are driven largely by changes in summer air temperatures, surface melting and runoff. Relative to 2000–2004, strong summer warming since 2005 (1.1 to 1.6°C at 700 hPa) has increased summer mean ice surface temperatures and melt season length on the major ice caps in this region by 0.8 to 2.2°C and 4.7 to 11.9 d respectively. 30–48% of the total mass lost from 4 monitored glaciers since 1963 has occurred since 2005. The mean rate of mass loss from these 4 glaciers between 2005 and 2009 (−493 kg m−2 a−1) was nearly 5 times greater than the 1963–2004 average. In 2007 and 2008, it was 7 times greater (−698 kg m−2 a−1). These changes are associated with a summer atmospheric circulation configuration that favors strong heat advection into the Queen Elizabeth Islands from the northwest Atlantic, where sea surface temperatures have been anomalously high.

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