Characteristics of ocean waters reaching Greenland’s glaciers

Peer Reviewed

Straneo F, Sutherland DA, Holland D, Gladish C, Hamilton GS, Johnson HL, Rignot E, Xu Y, & Koppes M

Annals of Glaciology 53, Issue 60, pages 202-210, 2012, 10.3189/2012AoG60A059.

Interaction of Greenland’s marine-terminating glaciers with the ocean has emerged as a key term in the ice-sheet mass balance and a plausible trigger for their recent acceleration. Our knowledge of the dynamics, however, is limited by scarcity of ocean measurements at the glacier/ocean boundary. Here data collected near six marine-terminating glaciers (79 North, Kangerdlugssuaq, Helheim and Petermann glaciers, Jakobshavn Isbræ, and the combined Sermeq Kujatdleq and Akangnardleq) are compared to investigate the water masses and the circulation at the ice/ocean boundary. Polar Water, of Arctic origin, and Atlantic Water, from the subtropical North Atlantic, are found near all the glaciers. Property analysis indicates melting by Atlantic Water (AW; found at the grounding line depth near all the glaciers) and the influence of subglacial discharge at depth in summer. AW temperatures near the glaciers range from 4.5°C in the southeast, to 0.16°C in northwest Greenland, consistent with the distance from the subtropical North Atlantic and cooling across the continental shelf. A review of its offshore variability suggests that AW temperature changes in the fjords will be largest in southern and smallest in northwest Greenland, consistent with the regional distribution of the recent glacier acceleration.

Keywords: Greenland, Marine-terminating glaciers, Oceanography
Categories: Arctic, Natural Science