Capturing Greenland Meltwater Plume Dynamics with IcePod Imagery

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Scott Brown1, Deborah A Le Bel1, Christopher J Zappa2, David Felton Porter1, Kirsty J Tinto1,2, Robin E Bell2 and Nicholas Frearson1,2, (1)Columbia University of New York, Palisades, NY, United States, (2)Lamont -Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY, United States
Meltwater that forms on the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet and falls to the ice sheet bed eventually emerges at the calving front as tan, turbid plumes of water. Adjacent to the ice, these meltwater plumes foster mixing in the fjord moving warm ocean water into contact with the front of the ice sheet where it can undercut the ice front and trigger calving. The dynamics of meltwater plumes is difficult to study due to their proximity to the steep calving fronts and their intermittent nature.

In July 2014 the IcePod, the ice-ocean imaging system mounted on a New York Air National Guard LC-130, surveyed the 5 glaciers just north of Jakobshavn Isbrae, each of which had an active meltwater plume. The IcePod system has core instrumentation that can resolve high-resolution surface elevations with a scanning laser and visual cameras, the temperature of the surface with an infrared camera, and the structure of snow and ice with two radar systems. For the study of plume dynamics, the key IcePod observations include: (1) the morphology of the calving front captured with the visual camera and the scanning laser and (2) thermal structure, velocity and turbulence of the plume water resolved with the infrared camera. In the future, an expanded IcePod capability will include an AXCTD launching system to recovery the hydrography of the fjord and the plumes.

The IcePod survey directly crossed 3 of the 5 meltwater plumes on two subsequent days. The plumes sampled multiple times were Sermeq Avangnardleq A that drains into the Jakobshavn Isbrae Fjord, Eqip Sermia and Sermia Kangilerngata. While each of the ice feeding these three adjacent fjords has experienced the same surface melting conditions the structure of the meltwater plumes was very different in each fjords. Sermeq Avangnardleq A had a narrow angular shaped plume nestled in an embayment in the calving front, Eqip Sermia had two broad diffuse plumes and Sermia Kangilerngata had a narrow circular plume in an ice choked fjord. We use particle image velocimetry (PIV), a method to measure velocities in fluid, to resolve the varying turbulence in the individual plumes. The variability of these 5 plumes, within the hydrologic framework of their catchments, provides insights into the role of meltwater in fjord circulation, transport, and mixing.