Analysis of Environmental Forcing and Melange Fluctuation in Asynchronous Retreat of Ocean Terminating Glaciers in Greenland’s Sermilik Fjord
Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Widespread near synchronous retreat of marine terminating outlet glaciers has been observed across wide swaths of the Greenland Ice Sheet. However, despite large-scale patterns of retreat, there is considerable variability in the timing and retreat patterns of individual glaciers with geographically adjacent glaciers that experience similar climate and meteorological forcing displaying markedly different behavior. Here we applied an automated identification algorithm that we developed to track the terminus and melange in order better understand the complex dynamics and varying drivers of glacier retreat. The algorithm was applied to three major glaciers (Helheim Glacier, Fenris Glacier and Midgard Glacier) that terminate in Greenland’s Sermilik Fjord over the period of 2000- 2014. The terminus position and the percentage of the fjord filled with melange or sea ice from 2001 to present was determined. Since these glaciers exist within the same fjord system, they should experience comparable environmental forcing conditions, but appear to respond to these conditions differently causing them to have varying patterns of retreat. Helheim Glacier and Fenris Glacier have terminus locations closely spaced in the fjord but Helheim Glacier’s terminus retreated over 7 km before advancing to stabilize at a 5 km retreat over the observation period and Fenris Glacier’s terminus has stayed in roughly the same place. Midgard Glacier is located across the fjord from Helheim Glacier and its terminus has continuously retreated with a retreat of approximately 8 km. This asynchronous retreat shows that proximity alone cannot determine retreat behavior, and a more complex interaction between internal variability and external forcing must be taking place. To better understand the variability within the system and the cause of asynchronous retreat, ocean and air temperature datasets, in conjunction with the fjord geometry, were compared with our derived melange/sea ice and terminus position data.