Outlet glacier and margin elevation changes: Near-coastal thinning of the Greenland ice sheet


  • W. Abdalati,

  • W. Krabill,

  • E. Frederick,

  • S. Manizade,

  • C. Martin,

  • J. Sonntag,

  • R. Swift,

  • R. Thomas,

  • W. Wright,

  • J. Yungel


Repeat surveys by aircraft laser altimeter in 1993/1994 and 1998/1999 have revealed significant thinning along many parts of the Greenland ice sheet at elevations below about 2000 m. In this paper we examine elevation changes from 29 repeat aircraft surveys over the lower portions of some of the larger outlet glaciers and parts of the ice sheet margin. Here thinning rates in excess of 1 m/yr are common in the lower sections of the flight lines, but in some cases, this rate is measured at elevations as high as 1500 m. Warmer summers along parts of the coast may have caused a few tens of cm/yr additional melting, but the magnitudes and character of the elevation changes suggest that in many cases they are more likely a result of glacier dynamics and creep thinning. The most extreme thinning was observed near the terminus of the Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier in southeastern Greenland where rates as high as 10 m/yr were measured. There are a few areas of significant thickening (over 1 m/yr), which is probably related to higher than normal accumulation rates during the observation period; but one location L, Bistrup Brae, had local regions of thickening of 8 to 9 m/yr. Three glaciers in the northeast show patterns of thickness change that may suggest surging behavior, and one has been independently documented as a surging glacier. Overall, the lowest reaches of the outlet glaciers and ice sheet edges appear to be changing significantly, with thinning observed more frequently than thickening.