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Sediment plume response to surface melting and supraglacial lake drainages on the Greenland ice sheet

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Increased mass losses from the Greenland ice sheet and inferred contributions to sea-level rise have heightened the need for hydrologic observations of meltwater exiting the ice sheet. We explore whether temporal variations in ice-sheet surface hydrology can be linked to the development of a downstream sediment plume in Kangerlussuaq Fjord by comparing: (1) plume area and suspended sediment concentration from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) imagery and field data; (2) ice-sheet melt extent from Special Sensor Microwave/Imager (SSM/I) passive microwave data; and (3) supraglacial lake drainage events from MODIS. Results confirm that the origin of the sediment plume is meltwater release from the ice sheet. Interannual variations in plume area reflect interannual variations in surface melting. Plumes appear almost immediately with seasonal surface-melt onset, provided the estuary is free of landfast sea ice. A seasonal hysteresis between melt extent and plume area suggests late-season exhaustion in sediment supply. Analysis of plume sensitivity to supraglacial events is less conclusive, with 69% of melt pulses and 38% of lake drainage events triggering an increase in plume area. We conclude that remote sensing of sediment plume behavior offers a novel tool for detecting the presence, timing and interannual variability of meltwater release from the ice sheet.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 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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