Decreasing cloud cover drives the recent mass loss on the Greenland Ice Sheet

Stefan Hofer, Andrew Tedstone, Xavier Fettweis, Jonathan Bamber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)
328 Downloads (Pure)


The Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) has been losing mass at an accelerating rate since the mid-1990s. This has been due to both increased ice discharge into the ocean and melting at the surface, with the latter being the dominant contribution. This change in state has been attributed to rising temperatures and a decrease in surface albedo. We show, using satellite data and climate model output, that the abrupt reduction in surface mass balance since about 1995 can be attributed largely to a coincident trend of decreasing summer cloud cover enhancing the melt-albedo feedback. Satellite observations show that, from 1995 to 2009, summer cloud cover decreased by 0.9 ± 0.3% per year. Model output indicates that the GrIS summer melt increases by 27 ± 13 gigatons (Gt) per percent reduction in summer cloud cover, principally because of the impact of increased shortwave radiation over the low albedo ablation zone. The observed reduction in cloud cover is strongly correlated with a state shift in the North Atlantic Oscillation promoting anticyclonic conditions in summer and suggests that the enhanced surface mass loss from the GrIS is driven by synoptic-scale changes in Arctic-wide atmospheric circulation.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1700584
Number of pages9
JournalScience Advances
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2017

Structured keywords

  • GlobalMass


  • Greenland
  • Greenland Ice Sheet
  • Cloud cover
  • Mass balance
  • Albedo
  • Climate change
  • Sea-level rise
  • Climatology
  • Remote sensing
  • Climate modelling

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Decreasing cloud cover drives the recent mass loss on the Greenland Ice Sheet'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this