Surface emergence of glacial plumes determined by fjord stratification

Eva De Andrés, Donald A. Slater, Fiamma Straneo, Jaime Otero, Sarah Das, Francisco Navarro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Meltwater and sediment-laden plumes at tidewater glaciers, resulting from the localized subglacial discharge of surface melt, influence submarine melting of the glacier and the delivery of nutrients to the fjord's surface waters. It is usually assumed that increased subglacial discharge will promote the surfacing of these plumes. Here, at a western Greenland tidewater glacier, we investigate the counterintuitive observation of a non-surfacing plume in July 2012 (a year of record surface melting) compared to the surfacing of the plume in July 2013 (an average melt year). We combine oceanographic observations, subglacial discharge estimates and an idealized plume model to explain the observed plumes' behavior and evaluate the relative impact of fjord stratification and subglacial discharge on plume dynamics. We find that increased fjord stratification prevented the plume from surfacing in 2012, show that the fjord was more stratified in 2012 due to increased freshwater content and speculate that this arose from an accumulation of ice sheet surface meltwater in the fjord in this record melt year. By developing theoretical scalings, we show that fjord stratification in general exerts a dominant control on plume vertical extent (and thus surface expression), so that studies using plume surface expression as a means of diagnosing variability in glacial processes should account for possible changes in stratification. We introduce the idea that, despite projections of increased surface melting over Greenland, the appearance of plumes at the fjord surface could in the future become less common if the increased freshwater acts to stratify fjords around the Greenland ice sheet. We discuss the implications of our findings for nutrient fluxes, trapping of atmospheric CO2 and the properties of water exported from Greenland's fjords.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1951-1969
JournalCryosphere
Volume14
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2020

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