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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Faezeh M. Nick et al., Large-scale changes in Greenland outlet glacier dynamics triggered at the terminus

Letter abstract

Nature Geoscience, published online: 11 January 2009 | doi:10.1038/ngeo394

Large-scale changes in Greenland outlet glacier dynamics triggered at the terminus

Faezeh M. Nick1,4, Andreas Vieli1, Ian M. Howat2 and Ian Joughin3

The recent marked retreat, thinning and acceleration of most of Greenland's outlet glaciers south of 70° N has increased concerns over Greenland's contribution to future sea level rise1, 2, 3, 4, 5. These dynamic changes seem to be parallel to the warming trend in Greenland, but the mechanisms that link climate and ice dynamics are poorly understood, and current numerical models of ice sheets do not simulate these changes realistically6, 7, 8. Uncertainties in the predictions of mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet have therefore been highlighted as one of the main limitations in forecasting future sea levels9. Here we present a numerical ice-flow model that reproduces the observed marked changes in Helheim Glacier, one of Greenland's largest outlet glaciers. Our simulation shows that the ice acceleration, thinning and retreat begin at the calving terminus and then propagate upstream through dynamic coupling along the glacier. We find that these changes are unlikely to be caused by basal lubrication through surface melt propagating to the glacier bed. We conclude that tidewater outlet glaciers adjust extremely rapidly to changing boundary conditions at the calving terminus. Our results imply that the recent rates of mass loss in Greenland's outlet glaciers are transient and should not be extrapolated into the future.
  1. Department of Geography, Durham University, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
  2. School of Earth Sciences, Byrd Polar Research Center, Ohio State University, 1090 Carmack Road, Columbus, Ohio 43210-1002, USA
  3. Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Lab, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th Street, Seattle, Washington 98108, USA
  4. Present address: Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland GEUS, Ostervolgade 10 DK-1350 Copenhagen, Denmark

Correspondence to: Andreas Vieli1 e-mail:

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