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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Hill, E.A., Carr, J.R., Stokes, C.R. & Gudmundsson, G.H. Dynamic changes in outlet glaciers in northern Greenland from 1948 to 2015. The Cryosphere. 2018;12:3243-3263.

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

The Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) is losing mass in response to recent climatic and oceanic warming. Since the mid-1990s, tidewater outlet glaciers across the ice sheet have thinned, retreated, and accelerated, but recent changes in northern Greenland have been comparatively understudied. Consequently, the dynamic response (i.e. changes in surface elevation and velocity) of these outlet glaciers to changes at their termini, particularly calving from floating ice tongues, is poorly constrained. Here we use satellite imagery and historical maps to produce an unprecedented 68-year record of terminus change across 18 major outlet glaciers and combine this with previously published surface elevation and velocity datasets. Overall, recent (1995–2015) retreat rates were higher than at any time in the previous 47 years (since 1948). Despite increased retreat rates from the 1990s, there was distinct variability in dynamic glacier behaviour depending on whether the terminus was grounded or floating. Grounded glaciers accelerated and thinned in response to retreat over the last 2 decades, while most glaciers terminating in ice tongues appeared dynamically insensitive to recent ice tongue retreat and/or total collapse. We also identify glacier geometry (e.g. fjord width, basal topography, and ice tongue confinement) as an important influence on the dynamic adjustment of glaciers to changes at their termini. Recent grounded outlet glacier retreat and ice tongue loss across northern Greenland suggest that the region is undergoing rapid change and could soon contribute substantially to sea level rise via the loss of grounded ice.

Department of Geography