Surface mass balance observations from the Greenland Ice Sheet and local glaciers

Glacier surface mass-balance measurements on Greenland started more than a century ago, but no compilation existed of the observations from the ablation area of the ice sheet and local glaciers. Such data are essential in the evaluation of modelled surface mass balance, or to document changes in glacier melt independently from model output. This project established a comprehensive database of Greenland glacier surface mass-balance observations from the ablation area of the ice sheet and local glaciers. The database currently spans the 123 years from 1892 to 2015, contains a total of ∼3000 measurements from 46 sites, and is openly accessible. For each measurement we provide X, Y and Z coordinates, starting and ending dates as well as quality flags. We give sources for each entry and for all metadata. Two thirds of the data stem from grey literature and unpublished archive documents. Roughly 60% of the measurements were performed by the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS, previously GGU). The data cover all regions of Greenland except for the southernmost part of the east coast, but also emphasize the importance of long-term time series of which there are only two exceeding 20 years.


Study area: Greenland ice sheet


  • Illustrations

    a) Map of Greenland showing location and duration of observation of all currently known surface mass-balance sites located in the ablation area of the ice sheet and on the local glaciers (Source: Machguth et al., 2016). b) Stake measurements in 1939 on Freya Glacier, central eastern Greenland (Source: Ahlmann 1941). c) Coordinates of mass balance sites along the Paqitsoq transect (West Greenland) measured in the mid-1980s (Source: H. Thompson, personal comm.).

  • Publications
    • Machguth, H., H.H. Thomsen, A. Weidick, J. Abermann, A.P. Ahlstrøm, M. L. Andersen, S.B. Andersen, A.A. Bjørk, J.E. Box, R.J. Braithwaite, C.E. Bøggild, M. Citterio, P. Clement, W. Colgan, R.S. Fausto, K. Gleie, B. Hasholt, B. Hynek, N.T. Knudsen, S.H. Larsen, S. Mernild, J. Oerlemans, H. Oerter, O.B. Olesen, C.J.P.P. Smeets, K. Steffen, M. Stober, S. Sugiyama D. van As, M.R. van den Broeke and R.S. van de Wal (2016): Greenland surface mass balance observations from the ice sheet ablation area and local glaciers, Journal of Glaciology, 62(235), 861-887.
    • Noël, B., W.J. van de Berg, H. Machguth, S. Lhermitte, I. Howat, X. Fettweis, and M. van den Broeke, (2016): A daily, 1-km resolution dataset of downscaled Greenland ice sheet surface mass balance (1958-2015), The Cryosphere, 10, 2361-2377.
    • Fettweis, X., J.E. Box, C. Agosta, C. Amory, C. Kittel, C. Lang, D. van As, H. Machguth and H. Gallée (2017): Reconstructions of the 1900-2015 Greenland ice sheet surface mass balance using the regional climate MAR model, The Cryosphere, 11, 1015-1033.

Duration: 2014 to open end

Funded by: PROMICE at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), Copenhagen, Denmark

Collaborators: GEUS, Copenhagen, Denmark




Horst Machguth

Department of Geosciences

University of Fribourg
Chemin du Musée 4

CH–1700 Fribourg

   +41 26 300 90 21