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Greenland ice sheet melts more when it’s cloudy

Clouds play a bigger role in the melting of the Greenland ice sheet than was previously assumed. Compared to clear skies, clouds enhance the meltwater runoff by a third. Those are the findings of an international study that was coordinated by KU Leuven and published in Nature Communications.

Greenland’s ice sheet is the second largest ice mass in the world – the largest is Antarctica. The ice sheet is losing mass at a high speed and increasingly contributes to the sea level rise on our planet. The role of clouds in this loss of snow and ice has never been calculated before, nor can it be deduced from theoretical climate models. For lack of observations, the different models do not agree on the importance of clouds over the ice sheet.

“Clouds always have several effects”, lead author Kristof Van Tricht explains. “On the one hand, they help add mass to the ice sheet when it snows. On the other, they have an indirect effect on the ice sheet as well: they have an impact on the temperature, and snow and ice react to these changes by melting and refreezing.

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