Greenland outlet glacier behavior during the 21st century: Understanding velocities and environmental factors
Moon, Twila Alexandra
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Outlet glacier ice dynamics, including ice-flow speed, play a key role in determining Greenland Ice Sheet mass loss, which is a significant contributor to global sea-level rise. Mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet increased significantly over the last several decades and current mass losses of 260-380 Gt ice/yr contribute 0.7-1.1 mm/yr to global sea-level rise (~10%). Understanding the potentially complex interactions among glacier, ocean, and climate, however, remains a challenge and limits certainty in modeling and predicting future ice sheet behavior and associated risks to society. This thesis focuses on understanding the seasonal to interannual scale changes in outlet glacier velocity across the Greenland Ice Sheet and how velocity fluctuations are connected to other elements of the ice sheet-ocean-atmosphere system. <bold>1) Interannual velocity patterns<bold> Earlier observations on several of Greenland's outlet glaciers, starting near the turn of the 21st century, indicated rapid (annual-scale) and large (>100%) increases in glacier velocity. Combining data from several satellites, we produce a decade-long (2000 to 2010) record documenting the ongoing velocity evolution of nearly all (200+) of Greenland's major outlet glaciers, revealing complex spatial and temporal patterns. Changes on fast-flow marine-terminating glaciers contrast with steady velocities on ice-shelf-terminating glaciers and slow speeds on land-terminating glaciers. Regionally, glaciers in the northwest accelerated steadily, with more variability in the southeast and relatively steady flow elsewhere. Intraregional variability shows a complex response to regional and local forcing. Observed acceleration indicates that sea level rise from Greenland may fall well below earlier proposed upper bounds. <bold>2) Seasonal velocity patterns<bold> Greenland mass loss includes runoff of surface melt and ice discharge via marine-terminating outlet glaciers, the latter now making up a third to a half of total ice loss. The magnitude of ice discharge depends in part on ice-flow speed, which has broadly increased since 2000 but varies locally, regionally, and from year-to-year. Research on a few Greenland glaciers also shows that speed varies seasonally. However, for many regions of the ice sheet, including wide swaths of the west, northwest, and southeast coasts where ice loss is increasing most rapidly, there are few or no records of seasonal velocity variation. We present 5-year records of seasonal velocity measurements for 55 glaciers distributed around the ice sheet margin. We find 3 distinct seasonal velocity patterns. The different patterns indicate varying glacier sensitivity to ice-front (terminus) position and likely regional differences in basal hydrology in which some subglacial systems do transition seasonally from inefficient, distributed hydrologic networks to efficient, channelized drainage, while others do not. Our findings highlight the need for modeling and observation of diverse glacier systems in order to understand the full spectrum of ice-sheet dynamics. <bold>3) Seasonal to interannual glacier and sea ice behavior and interaction<bold> Focusing on 16 northwestern Greenland glaciers during 2009-2012, we examine terminus position, sea ice and ice mélange conditions, seasonal velocity changes, topography, and climate, with extended 1999-2012 records for 4 glaciers. There is a strong correlation between near-terminus sea ice/mélange conditions and terminus position. In several cases, late-forming and inconsistent sea ice/mélange may induce sustained retreat. For all of the 13-year records and most of the 4-year records, sustained, multi-year retreat is accompanied by velocity increase. Seasonal speedup, which is observed across the region, may, however, be more heavily influenced by melt interacting with the subglacial hydrologic system than seasonal terminus variation. Projections of continued warming and longer ice-free periods around Greenland suggest that notable retreat over wide areas may continue. Sustained retreat is likely to be associated with multi-year speedup, though both processes are modulated by local topography. The timing of seasonal ice dynamics patterns may also shift.