Antarctic precipitation and climate change predictions: Horizontal resolution and margin vs plateau issues
All climate models participating in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as made available by the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) as the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 3 (CMIP3) archive, predict a significant surface warming of Antarctica by the end of the 21st century under a moderate (SRESA1B) greenhouse-gas scenario. All models but one predict a concurrent precipitation increase but with a large scatter of results. The models with finer horizontal resolution tend to predict a larger precipitation increase. Because modeled Antarctic surface mass balance is known to be sensitive to horizontal resolution, extrapolating predictions from the different models with respect to model resolution mayprovide simple yet better multi-model estimates of Antarctic precipitation change than mere averaging or even more complex approaches. Using such extrapolation, a conservative estimate of the predicted precipitation increase at the end of the 21st century is +30 kgm–2 a–1 on the grounded ice sheet, corresponding to a >1mma–1 sea-level rise. About three-quarters of this rise originates from the marginal regions of the Antarctic ice sheet with surface elevation below 2250 m. This is where field programs are most urgently needed to better understand and monitor accumulation at the surface of Antarctica, and to improve and verify prediction models.