Surface mass balance and climate of the Last Glacial Maximum Northern Hemisphere ice sheets: simulations with CESM2.1

Sarah L. Bradley, Raymond Sellevold, Michele Petrini, Miren Vizcaino, Sotiria Georgiou, Jiang Zhu, Bette L. Otto-Bliesner, Marcus Lofverstrom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, from ∼ 26 to 20 ka BP) was the most recent period with large ice sheets in Eurasia and North America. At that time, global temperatures were 5-7 °C lower than today, and sea level ∼ 125m lower. LGM simulations are useful to understand earth system dynamics, including climate-ice sheet interactions, and to evaluate and improve the models representing those dynamics. Here, we present two simulations of the Northern Hemisphere ice sheet climate and surface mass balance (SMB) with the Community Earth System Model v2.1 (CESM2.1) using the Community Atmosphere Model v5 (CAM5) with prescribed ice sheets for two time periods that bracket the LGM period: 26 and 21 ka BP. CESM2.1 includes an explicit simulation of snow/firn compaction, albedo, refreezing, and direct coupling of the ice sheet surface energy fluxes with the atmosphere. The simulated mean snow accumulation is lowest for the Greenland and Barents-Kara Sea ice sheets (GrIS, BKIS) and highest for British and Irish (BIIS) and Icelandic (IcIS) ice sheets. Melt rates are negligible for the dry BKIS and GrIS, and relatively large for the BIIS, North American ice sheet complex (NAISC; i.e. Laurentide, Cordilleran, and Innuitian), Scandinavian ice sheet (SIS), and IcIS, and are reduced by almost a third in the colder (lower temperature) 26 ka BP climate compared with 21 ka BP. The SMB is positive for the GrIS, BKIS, SIS, and IcIS during the LGM (26 and 21 ka BP) and negative for the NAISC and BIIS. Relatively wide ablation areas are simulated along the southern (terrestrial), Pacific and Atlantic margins of the NAISC, across the majority of the BIIS, and along the terrestrial southern margin of the SIS. The integrated SMB substantially increases for the NAISC and BIIS in the 26 ka BP climate, but it does not reverse the negative sign. Summer incoming surface solar radiation is largest over the high interior of the NAISC and GrIS, and minimum over the BIIS and southern margin of NAISC. Summer net radiation is maximum over the ablation areas and minimum where the albedo is highest, namely in the interior of the GrIS, northern NAISC, and all of the BKIS. Summer sensible and latent heat fluxes are highest over the ablation areas, positively contributing to melt energy. Refreezing is largest along the equilibrium line altitude for all ice sheets and prevents 40 %-50% of meltwater entering the ocean. The large simulated melt for the NAISC suggests potential biases in the climate simulation, ice sheet reconstruction, and/or highly nonequilibrated climate and ice sheet at the LGM time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-235
Number of pages25
JournalClimate of the Past
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 24 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Stratigraphy
  • Palaeontology


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