Quantifying the resolution level where the GRACE satellites can separate Greenland's glacial mass balance from surface mass balance

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Abstract

Mass change over Greenland can be caused by either changes in the glacial dynamic mass balance (DMB) or the surface mass balance (SMB). The GRACE satellite gravity mission cannot directly separate the two physical causes because it measures the sum of the entire mass column with limited spatial resolution. We demonstrate one theoretical way to indirectly separate cumulative SMB from DMB with GRACE, using a least squares inversion technique with knowledge of the location of the glaciers. However, we find that the limited 60 × 60 spherical harmonic representation of current GRACE data does not provide sufficient resolution to adequately accomplish the task. We determine that at a maximum degree/order of 90 × 90 or above, a noise-free gravity measurement could theoretically separate the SMB from DMB signals. However, current GRACE satellite errors are too large at present to separate the signals. A noise reduction of a factor of 10 at a resolution of 90 × 90 would provide the accuracy needed for the interannual cumulative SMB and DMB to be accurately separated.

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Bonin, J. A., & Chambers, D. P. (2015). Quantifying the resolution level where the GRACE satellites can separate Greenland’s glacial mass balance from surface mass balance. Cryosphere, 9(5), 1761–1772. https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-9-1761-2015

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