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Keywords:

  • Greenland;
  • calving;
  • glacier;
  • retreat

[1] We have developed an automatic method to identify changes in the position of calving glacier margins using daily MODIS imagery. Application of the method to 32 ocean-terminating glaciers in East Greenland produced 26,802 margin positions for a 10 year long period (2000–2009). We report these high-resolution data and show that the glaciers exhibit seasonal cycles with magnitudes of advance and retreat proportional to glacier width. Despite similar seasonality there is a distinct difference between the interannual trends of calving front positions north and south of 69°N. All glaciers above this latitude showed very limited or no change when seasonality was excluded, while glaciers south of 69°N retreated significantly between 2001 and 2005 (∼2.3 km on average). Approximately 26% of the retreat of southern glaciers was regained by readvance from 2005 to 2009. To explain the latitudinal boundary of glacier dynamics, we review basic climatic factors, including summer and winter atmospheric forcing, sea ice conditions, and ocean temperature. We conclude that the southern retreats were strongly influenced by warm oceanic conditions associated with increased transport of subtropical waters to the Irminger Sea and to fjords and coastal regions south of 69°N. Northern glaciers remained stable despite significant increase in runoff in this region because fjords at latitudes higher than 69°N are less exposed to subtropical waters. The southern retreats illustrate sensitive behavior of calving glaciers, and we hypothesize that the calving fronts retreated because they were exposed to rapid ice-front melting.