The observed decline in summer sea ice extent since the 1970s is predicted to continue until the Arctic Ocean is seasonally ice free during the 21st Century. This will lead to a much perturbed Arctic climate with large changes in ocean surface energy flux. Svalbard, located on the present day sea ice edge, contains many low lying ice caps and glaciers and is expected to experience rapid warming over the 21st Century. The total sea level rise if all the land ice on Svalbard were to melt completely is 0.02 m.
The purpose of this study is to quantify the impact of climate change on Svalbard's surface mass balance (SMB) and to determine, in particular, what proportion of the projected changes in precipitation and SMB are a result of changes to the Arctic sea ice cover. To investigate this a regional climate model was forced with monthly mean climatologies of sea surface temperature (SST) and sea ice concentration for the periods 1961-1990 and 2061-2090 under two emission scenarios. In a novel forcing experiment, 20th Century SSTs and 21st Century sea ice were used to force one simulation to investigate the role of sea ice forcing. This experiment results in a 3.5 m water equivalent increase in Svalbard's SMB compared to the present day. This is because over 50% of the projected increase in winter precipitation over Svalbard under the A1B emissions scenario is due to an increase in lower atmosphere moisture content associated with evaporation from the ice free ocean. These results indicate that increases in precipitation due to sea ice decline may act to moderate mass loss from Svalbard's glaciers due to future Arctic warming.