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Access of Atlantic Water to Greenland glaciers (A2Green)


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Type of project
Project theme
Ocean & fiord systems
Project topic

Project details

Science / project plan

In the last two decades,  the Greenland Ice Sheet has been losing mass at an accelerating rate, contributing significantly to global mean sea level rise. The mass loss has been attributed both to atmospheric warming but also to warming ocean waters which increase the rate of submarine melting at marine-terminating glaciers along the coast of Greenland. However, the mechanisms and drivers of the  transport of this warm Atlantic water which crosses the continental shelf and enters the narrow glacial fjords towards Greenland's glaciers  are poorly understood.

The aim of this project is to examine the access of Atlantic Water to the glaciers in North-East Greenland, and the ocean-glaciers interactions. This involves using hydrographic observations to determine the processes and pathways by which the warm Atlantic Water crosses the Fram Strait, onto the NE Greenland continental shelf and into the fjords. The warm Atlantic water (AIW) has been observed on both the Greenland continental shelf and in numerous fjords where marine-terminating glaciers are found, and suspected to govern the intensity of the ocean-driven melting.

Two ocean-glacier systems are the focus of this work  - between 79N Glacier (79⁰ N) at the northern end of the region which has Greenland's largest floating glacier tongue, and Daugaard-Jensen in Scoresby Sund (69⁰ N) at the southern end of the domain - to examine the pathways of the AIW across the entire East Greenland shelf. There are moored instruments in both regions measuring temperature, salinity and currents along the warm water pathways. These are hoped to be recovered in the summer of 2020.

The three main objectives of the project are:

1. Investigate large scale changes of the AIW on the NE Greenland shelf and drivers of this variability between inter-annual and decadal scales.

2. Determine the role of the continental shelf on the transport of AIW on the shelf, and the impact of shelf processes on the AIW properties flowing towards the glaciers.

3. Assess the control of bathymetry in constraining the access of AIW to fjords and ice-sheet cavities.

The in-situ observations combine historic and recent hydrographic and bathymetric data sets in the Fram Strait, from the outer, mid and inner East Greenland shelf, and from the two fjord systems, across this range of spatial and time scales.

Publications related to project

Mayer, C., Schaffer, J., Hattermann, T., Floricioiu, D., Dodd, P.A., Kanzow, T., Licciullo, C., and Schannwell, C. (2018): Large ice loss variability at Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden Glacier, Northeast-Greenland, Nature Communication, 9, 2768, doi:10.1038/s41467-018-05180-x.

Polyakov, Igor V., Andrey V. Pnyushkov, Matthew B. Alkire, Igor M. Ashik, Till M. Baumann, Eddy C. Carmack, Ilona Goszczko, John Guthrie, Vladimir V. Ivanov, Torsten Kanzow, Richard Krishfield, Ronald Kwok, et al. n. Greater role for Atlantic inflows on sea-ice loss in the Eurasian Basin of the Arctic Ocean. Science, 2017; eaai8204 DOI: 10.1126/science.aai8204

Schaffer, J., Timmermann, R., Arndt, J. E., Kristensen, S. S., Mayer, C., Morlighem, M., and Steinhage, D. (2016): A global high-resolution data set of ice sheet topography, cavity geometry and ocean bathymetry, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 8, 543-557, doi: 10.5194/essd-8-543-2016

Schaffer, J., von Appen, W.-J., Dodd, P. A., Hofstede, C.,Mayer, C., de Steur, L., and Kanzow, T. (2017): Warm water pathways toward Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden Glacier, Northeast Greenland, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 122, 4004–4020, doi: 10.1002/2016JC012462.