Evaluating different geothermal heat-flow maps as basal boundary conditions during spin-up of the Greenland ice sheet

Tong Zhang, William Colgan, Agnes Wansing, Anja Løkkegaard, Gunter Leguy, William H. Lipscomb, Cunde Xiao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


There is currently poor scientific agreement on whether the ice-bed interface is frozen or thawed beneath approximately one third of the Greenland ice sheet. This disagreement in basal thermal state results, at least partly, from differences in the subglacial geothermal heat-flow basal boundary condition used in different ice-flow models. Here, we employ seven widely used Greenland geothermal heat-flow maps in 10g000-year spin-ups of the Community Ice Sheet Model (CISM). We perform two spin-ups: one nudged toward thickness observations and the other unconstrained. Across the seven heat-flow maps, and regardless of unconstrained or nudged spin-up, the spread in basal ice temperatures exceeds 10gC over large areas of the ice-bed interface. For a given heat-flow map, the thawed-bed ice-sheet area is consistently larger under unconstrained spin-ups than nudged spin-ups. Under the unconstrained spin-up, thawed-bed area ranges from 33.5g% to 60.0g% across the seven heat-flow maps. Perhaps counterintuitively, the highest iceberg calving fluxes are associated with the lowest heat flows (and vice versa) for both unconstrained and nudged spin-ups. These results highlight the direct, and non-Trivial, influence of the heat-flow boundary condition on the simulated equilibrium thermal state of the ice sheet. We suggest that future ice-flow model intercomparisons should employ a range of basal heat-flow maps, and limit direct intercomparisons with simulations using a common heat-flow map.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-402
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2024

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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