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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Carr, R., Stokes, C.R. & Vieli, A. Threefold increase in marine-terminating outlet glacier retreat rates across the Atlantic Arctic: 1992-2010. Journal of Glaciology. 2017;58:72-91.

Author(s) from Durham


Accelerated discharge through marine-terminating outlet glaciers has been a key component
of the rapid mass loss from Arctic glaciers since the 1990s. However, glacier retreat and its climatic
controls have not been assessed at the pan-Arctic scale. Consequently, the spatial and temporal variability
in the magnitude of retreat, and the possible drivers are uncertain. Here we use remotely sensed data
acquired over 273 outlet glaciers, located across the entire Atlantic Arctic (i.e. areas potentially influenced
by North Atlantic climate and/or ocean conditions, specifically: Greenland, Novaya Zemlya,
Franz Josef Land and Svalbard), to demonstrate high-magnitude, accelerating and near-ubiquitous
retreat between 1992 and 2010. Overall, mean retreat rates increased by a factor of 3.5 between
1992 and 2000 (−30.5 m a−1
) and 2000–10 (−105.8 m a−1
), with 97% of the study glaciers retreating
during the latter period. The Retreat was greatest in northern, western and south-eastern Greenland and
also increased substantially on the Barents Sea coast of Novaya Zemlya. Glacier retreat showed no significant
or consistent relationship with summer air temperatures at decadal timescales. The rate of
frontal position change showed a significant, but weak, correlation with changes in sea-ice concentrations.
We highlight large variations in retreat rates within regions and suggest that fjord topography
plays an important role. We conclude that marine-terminating Arctic outlet glaciers show a common
response of rapid and accelerating retreat at decadal timescales.

Department of Geography