Regional surface melt constrained from exposed strata on the Greenland ice sheet using structural geology, satellite imagery and IcePod data.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Robin E Bell, Kirsty J Tinto, David Felton Porter, Indrani Das, Nicholas Frearson, Christopher Bertinato, Alex Boghosian, Winnie Chu, Timothy T Creyts, Tejendra Dhakal, LingLing Dong and Sarah E Starke, Lamont -Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY, United States
Surface melt in the ablation zone of Greenland varies considerably, with increasing rates over the satellite observational period. Prior to airborne and satellite altimetry studies, the record is primarily based on point measurements. Here, we develop an independent method of estimating supraglacial melt from satellite images to produce a broad spatial record of mass balance in west Greenland through three decades.

The ablation zone along the margin of the ice sheet in central west Greenland shows a band of dark grey ice approximately 25 km wide traceable over 150 km from 66° 40' N to 68° 20' N, inland from Kangerlussuaq, and visible again to the north of Jakobshavn Isbrae. This grey ice is characterized by large, km-scale zigzags of alternating dark and light ice bands. Ice penetrating radar data show that the outcropping ice throughout this band is strongly stratified, with strata dipping inland towards the centre of the ice sheet. The large zigzags across the ice surface are seen on the surface where these dipping strata undulate, or when the ice surface is incised by meltwater channels. The amplitude of the zigzags is determined by the relative dip of the strata and the surface topography.

We focus on data from the Russell Glacier, where surface velocity is on the order of 100 m/yr, and surface melt erodes the bare ice on the order of 1 m/yr. While ice flow moves the exposed strata upwards and towards the margin, surface melt displaces the exposed trace of the stratigraphy down dip, i.e. towards the interior of the ice sheet. By cross-correlating satellite images from a 30 year period we can distinguish the seaward movement of ice surface features, such as crevasses and melt channels that move with ice flow, from the landward apparent displacement of the exposed strata. We combine this with high resolution DEMs, photographs and shallow ice radar from Operation IceBridge and the IcePod instrument suite to constrain the geometry of the ice surface and exposed strata. By combining satellite and airborne observations we demonstrate that the apparent displacement of the exposed strata documents the increased surface melt over the last three decades. Integrating structural geology into the surface mass balance analysis provides unique insights into the spatial variability of melt across the region.