Collaborating with the local community of Kullorsuaq, Greenland to obtain high-quality hydrographic measurements near Alison Glacier
Abstract:Warming ocean waters around Greenland have been implicated, along with warmer air temperatures, in the rapid increase of melt of the tidewater glaciers that drain the ice sheet. Most available regional oceanographic measurements have been collected during the summer seasons and are concentrated near the largest and most accessible glaciers. In order to gain a more comprehensive picture of the changing environment around the entirety of Greenland, more fjords, especially in the north, must be sampled. In July 2014, we travelled to Kullorsuaq in Northwest Greenland in order to foster a partnership with the local community to obtain new hydrographic data from CTD casts near Alison Glacier (74.6N, 57W). The terminus of this glacier abruptly retreated 10 km between 2000 and 2006. Although adequate observations from that time period are unavailable, our recently collected temperature and salinity data suggests that the deep water near Alison is similar to the waters further south, where near-synchronous ocean warming and glacial acceleration has been documented.
Over the course of two sampling days, a hand-operated winch from a small boat was used to make standard CTD casts in front of Alison Glacier. We find evidence of glacial and mélange melt and the signature of both Polar and Atlantic Water masses at depth. Along-fjord casts illustrate how the ocean waters are modified as they circulate in and out of the fjord and the interaction of this water with the melting glacial front. At 500m depths, ocean temperatures are about 3°C above the in-situ freezing point of seawater, suggesting a possible influence of warm ocean waters on the mass loss of Alison Glacier. Using NASA Operation IceBridge and satellite altimetry data, we relate our new hydrographic data to the observed recent changes in Alison Glacier. An additional important result is that this short field campaign uncovered the possibility of working with local Greenlandic communities to aid scientists in both environmental monitoring and scientific discovery. Plans are underway to collaborate with the same and other communities in Greenland to take additional oceanographic measurements throughout the year.