Submarine melting of glaciers in Greenland amplified by atmospheric warming

Donald Slater*, F. Straneo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Rapid ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet since 1992 is due in equal parts to increased surface melting and accelerated ice flow. The latter is conventionally attributed to ocean warming, which has enhanced submarine melting of the fronts of Greenland’s marine-terminating glaciers. Yet, through the release of ice sheet surface meltwater into the ocean, which excites near-glacier ocean circulation and in turn the transfer of heat from ocean to ice, a warming atmosphere can increase submarine melting even in the absence of ocean warming. The relative importance of atmospheric and oceanic warming in driving increased submarine melting has, however, not been quantified. Here, we reconstruct the rate of submarine melting at Greenland’s marine-terminating glaciers from 1979 to 2018 and estimate the resulting dynamic mass loss. We show that in south Greenland, variability in submarine melting was indeed governed by the ocean, but, in contrast, the atmosphere dominated in the northwest. At the ice sheet scale, the atmosphere plays a first-order role in controlling submarine melting and the subsequent dynamic mass loss. Our results challenge the attribution of dynamic mass loss to ocean warming alone and show that a warming atmosphere has amplified the impact of the ocean on the Greenland ice sheet.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Geoscience
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2022


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