1The City College of New York, The City University of New York, New York, NY 10031, USA
2University of Liege, Liege, Belgium
3University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602, USA
4Department of Physics and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA
5The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, New York, NY 10031, USA
6The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA
7School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
Abstract. A combined analysis of remote sensing observations, regional climate model (RCM) outputs and reanalysis data over the Greenland ice sheet provides evidence that multiple records were set during summer 2012. Melt extent was the largest in the satellite era (extending up to ~ 97% of the ice sheet) and melting lasted up to ~ two months longer than the 1979–2011 mean. Model results indicate that near surface temperature was ~ 3 standard deviations (σ) above the 1958–2011 mean, while surface mass balance was ~ 3σ below the mean and runoff was 3.9σ above the mean over the same period. Albedo, exposure of bare ice and surface mass balance also set new records, as did the total mass balance with summer and annual mass changes of, respectively, −627 Gt and −574 Gt, 2σ below the 2003–2012 mean.
We identify persistent anticyclonic conditions over Greenland associated with anomalies in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), changes in surface conditions (e.g. albedo) and pre-conditioning of surface properties from recent extreme melting as major driving mechanisms for the 2012 records. Because of self-amplifying positive feedbacks, less positive if not increasingly negative SMB will likely occur should large-scale atmospheric circulation and induced surface characteristics observed over the past decade persist. Since the general circulation models of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) do not simulate the abnormal anticyclonic circulation resulting from extremely negative NAO conditions as observed over recent years, contribution to sea level rise projected under different warming scenarios will be underestimated should the trend in NAO summer values continue.