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Recent changes on Greenland outlet glaciers

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Aircraft laser-altimeter surveys during the 1990s showed near-coastal parts of the Greenland ice sheet to be thinning; despite slow thickening at higher elevations, the ice sheet lost mass to the ocean. Many outlet glaciers thinned more rapidly than could be explained by increased melting during the recent warmer summers, indicating dynamic imbalance between glacier velocity and upstream snow accumulation. Results from more recent surveys, presented here, show that thinning rates have increased in most coastal regions. For almost half of the surveys, these increases might have resulted from increases in summer melting, but rapid thinning on others is indicative of dynamic changes that increased with time. In particular, thinning rates on the three fastest glaciers increased to tens of m a−1 after 2000, and other observations show an approximate doubling in their velocities. The deep beds of these glaciers appear to have a strong influence on rates of grounding-line retreat and thickness change, with periods of glacier acceleration and rapid thinning initiated by flotation and break-up of lightly grounded glacier snouts or break-up of floating ice tongues. Near-simultaneous thinning of these widely separated glaciers suggests that warming of deeper ocean waters might be a common cause. Nearby glaciers without deep beds are thinning far more slowly, suggesting that basal lubrication as a result of increased surface melting has only a marginal impact on Greenland outlet-glacier acceleration

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 2009

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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