Articles | Volume 11, issue 10
Research article
26 Oct 2015
Research article |  | 26 Oct 2015

How might the North American ice sheet influence the northwestern Eurasian climate?

P. Beghin, S. Charbit, C. Dumas, M. Kageyama, and C. Ritz

Abstract. It is now widely acknowledged that past Northern Hemisphere ice sheets covering Canada and northern Europe at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) exerted a strong influence on climate by causing changes in atmospheric and oceanic circulations. In turn, these changes may have impacted the development of the ice sheets themselves through a combination of different feedback mechanisms. The present study is designed to investigate the potential impact of the North American ice sheet on the surface mass balance (SMB) of the Eurasian ice sheet driven by simulated changes in the past glacial atmospheric circulation. Using the LMDZ5 atmospheric circulation model, we carried out 12 experiments under constant LGM conditions for insolation, greenhouse gases and ocean. In these experiments, the Eurasian ice sheet is removed. The 12 experiments differ in the North American ice-sheet topography, ranging from a white and flat (present-day topography) ice sheet to a full-size LGM ice sheet. This experimental design allows the albedo and the topographic impacts of the North American ice sheet onto the climate to be disentangled. The results are compared to our baseline experiment where both the North American and the Eurasian ice sheets have been removed. In summer, the sole albedo effect of the American ice sheet modifies the pattern of planetary waves with respect to the no-ice-sheet case, resulting in a cooling of the northwestern Eurasian region. By contrast, the atmospheric circulation changes induced by the topography of the North American ice sheet lead to a strong decrease of this cooling. In winter, the Scandinavian and the Barents–Kara regions respond differently to the American ice-sheet albedo effect: in response to atmospheric circulation changes, Scandinavia becomes warmer and total precipitation is more abundant, whereas the Barents–Kara area becomes cooler with a decrease of convective processes, causing a decrease of total precipitation. The gradual increase of the altitude of the American ice sheet leads to less total precipitation and snowfall and to colder temperatures over both the Scandinavian and the Barents and Kara sea sectors. We then compute the resulting annual surface mass balance over the Fennoscandian region from the simulated temperature and precipitation fields used to force an ice-sheet model. It clearly appears that the SMB is dominated by the ablation signal. In response to the summer cooling induced by the American ice-sheet albedo, high positive SMB values are obtained over the Eurasian region, leading thus to the growth of an ice sheet. On the contrary, the gradual increase of the American ice-sheet altitude induces more ablation over the Eurasian sector, hence limiting the growth of Fennoscandia. To test the robustness of our results with respect to the Eurasian ice sheet state, we carried out two additional LMDZ experiments with new boundary conditions involving both the American (flat or full LGM) and high Eurasian ice sheets. The most striking result is that the Eurasian ice sheet is maintained under full-LGM North American ice-sheet conditions, but loses ~ 10 % of its mass compared to the case in which the North American ice sheet is flat. These new findings qualitatively confirm the conclusions from our first series of experiments and suggest that the development of the Eurasian ice sheet may have been slowed down by the growth of the American ice sheet, offering thereby a new understanding of the evolution of Northern Hemisphere ice sheets throughout glacial–interglacial cycles.

Short summary
The present study investigates the potential impact of the North American ice sheet on the surface mass balance of the Eurasian ice sheet through changes in the past glacial atmospheric circulation. Using an atmospheric circulation model and an ice-sheet model, we show that the albedo of the American ice sheet favors the growth of the Eurasian ice sheet, whereas the topography of the American ice sheet leads to more ablation over North Eurasia, and therefore to a smaller Eurasian ice sheet.