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Spreading of warm ocean waters around Greenland as a possible cause for glacier acceleration

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We examine the pattern of spreading of warm subtropical-origin waters around Greenland for the years 1992–2009 using a high-resolution (4 km horizontal grid) coupled ocean and sea-ice simulation. The simulation, provided by the Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean, Phase II (ECCO2) project, qualitatively reproduces the observed warming of subsurface waters in the subpolar gyre associated with changes of the North Atlantic atmospheric state that occurred in the mid-1990s. The modeled subsurface ocean temperature warmed by 1.5°C in southeast and southwest Greenland during 1994–2005 and subsequently cooled by 0.5°C; modeled subsurface ocean temperature increased by 2–2.5°C in central and then northwest Greenland during 1997–2005 and stabilized thereafter, while it increased after 2005 by <0.5°C in north Greenland. Comparisons with in situ measurements off the continental shelf in the Labrador and Irminger Seas indicate that the model initial conditions were 0.4°C too warm in the south but the simulated warming is correctly reproduced; while measurements from eastern Baffin Bay reveal that the model initial conditions were 1.0°C too cold in the northwest but the simulated ocean warming brought modeled temperature closer to observations, i.e. the simulated warming is 1.0°C too large. At several key locations, the modeled oceanic changes off the shelf and below the seasonal mixed layer were rapidly transmitted to the shelf within troughs towards (model-unresolved) fjords. Unless blocked in the fjords by shallow sills, these warm subsurface waters had potential to propagate down the fjords and melt the glacier fronts. Based on model sensitivity simulations from an independent study (Xu and others, 2012), we show that the oceanic changes have very likely increased the subaqueous melt rates of the glacier fronts, and in turn impacted the rates of glacier flow.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2012-11-01

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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