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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