A model computation of the temporal changes of surface gravity and geoidal signal induced by the evolving Greenland ice sheet

This paper deals with present-day gravity changes in response to the evolving Greenland ice sheet. We present a detailed computation from a 3-D thermomechanical ice sheet model that is interactively coupled with a self-gravitating spherical viscoelastic bedrock model. The coupled model is run over the last two glacial cycles to yield the loading evolution over time. Based on both the ice sheet's long-term history and its modern evolution averaged over the last 200 years, results are presented of the absolute gravity trend that would arise from a ground survey and of the corresponding geoid rate of change a satellite would see from space. The main results yield ground absolute gravity trends of the order of ±1 µgal yr−1 over the ice-free areas and total geoid changes in the range between −0.1 and +0.3 mm yr−1. These estimates could help to design future measurement campaigns by revealing areas of strong signal and/or specific patterns, although there are uncertainties associated with the parameters adopted for the Earth's rheology and aspects of the ice sheet model. Given the instrumental accuracy of a particular surveying method, these theoretical trends could also be useful to assess the required duration of a measurement campaign. According to our results, the present-day gravitational signal is dominated by the response to past loading changes rather than current mass changes of the Greenland ice sheet.We finally discuss the potential of inferring the present-day evolution of the Greenland ice sheet from the geoid rate of change measured by the future geodetic GRACE mission. We find that despite the anticipated high-quality data from satellites, such a method is compromised by the uncertainties in the earth model, the dominance of isostatic recovery on the current bedrock signal, and other inaccuracies inherent to the method itself.


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Authors: Le Meur, Emmanuel, Huybrechts, Philippe

1 January, 2001
Geophysical Journal International / 145
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