The Contribution of Englacial Latent Heat Transfer to Seaward Ice Flux from Regions of Convergent and Divergent Ice Flow in Western Greenland

Friday, 19 December 2014
Kristin Poinar, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, United States and Ian R Joughin, Univ Washington, Seattle, WA, United States
Glacial meltwater can refreeze within firn and crevasses, warming the ice through latent heat transfer. The consequent softening of the ice has been identified as a potential destabilization mechanism for the Greenland Ice Sheet, which would flow more quickly seaward with lower viscosity. We calculate the effect of meltwater refreezing within firn and englacial features on ice temperature and viscosity in two contrasting areas of western Greenland: Jakobshavn Isbrae, a convergent, fast-flowing outlet glacier, and the Pakitsoq area (Swiss Camp) directly to its north, a "dead zone" experiencing slow, divergent flow because of its location between two outlet glaciers. We explore how much refreezing affects the seaward velocity of ice in each location by comparing our modeled temperature profiles to borehole data. Pakitsoq ice shows significant englacial latent heat transfer, or cryo-hydrologic warming, while the ice in Jakobshavn has warmed largely due to percolation within the firn. We find that the Pakitsoq region is rather unique in western Greenland because of the long residence time of the ice in the ablation zone (800 years) there; ice flowing through Jakobshavn, by contrast, spends only 20 years in the ablation zone, not enough time for deep, diffusive englacial warming to occur. Examination of the velocity field of the ice sheet indicates that 70% of the ice flux through western Greenland spends insufficient time (200 years or less) in the ablation zone to produce significant englacial warming. Thus, the effects of englacial latent heat transfer may be fairly limited to regions of divergent flow such as Pakitsoq. Ice loss in these regions, which tend to be land-terminating, is dominated by surface melt rather than seaward ice motion, further suggesting that englacial heat transfer may have a lesser effect on the stability of the ice sheet than previously supposed.