Changes in the dynamics of marine terminating outlet glaciers in west Greenland (2000–2009)

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Abstract

[1] Recent changes in the dynamics of Greenland's marine terminating outlet glaciers indicate a rapid and complex response to external forcing. Despite observed ice front retreat and recent geophysical evidence for accelerated mass loss along Greenland's northwestern margin, it is unclear whether west Greenland glaciers have undergone the synchronous speed-up and subsequent slow-down as observed in southeastern glaciers earlier in the decade. To investigate changes in west Greenland outlet glacier dynamics and the potential controls behind their behavior, we derive time series of front position, surface elevation, and surface slope for 59 marine terminating outlet glaciers and surface speeds for select glaciers in west Greenland from 2000 to 2009. Using these data, we look for relationships between retreat, thinning, acceleration, and geometric parameters to determine the first-order controls on glacier behavior. Our data indicate that changes in front positions and surface elevations were asynchronous on annual time scales, though nearly all glaciers retreated and thinned over the decade. We found no direct relationship between retreat, acceleration, and external forcing applicable to the entire region. In regard to geometry, we found that, following retreat, (1) glaciers with grounded termini experienced more pronounced changes in dynamics than those with floating termini and (2) thinning rates declined more quickly for glaciers with steeper slopes. Overall, glacier geometry should influence outlet glacier dynamics via stress redistribution following perturbations at the front, but our data indicate that the relative importance of geometry as a control of glacier behavior is highly variable throughout west Greenland.

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