Hydrology and dynamics of a land-terminating Greenland outlet glacier
Bartholomew, Ian David
PublisherUniversity of Edinburgh
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The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the hydrology and dynamics of a land-terminating outlet glacier on the western margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS). The investigations are motivated by uncertainty about the effect of meltwater on rates of ice flow in the GrIS and the possibility that hydrologically forced changes in ice velocity might increase mass loss from the ice sheet significantly in response to climate warming. The impact of meltwater on fluctuations in ice flow has been a research focus for glaciologists studying Alpine and Arctic glaciers for decades. In these settings, one of the main controls on the relationship between surface melting and ice velocity is the structure of the subglacial drainage system, which evolves spatially and temporally on a seasonal basis in response to inputs of meltwater from the glacier surface. In this thesis we present three years of field observations of glacier velocity, surface ablation and hydrology from a land-terminating glacier in west Greenland. These data are supplemented by satellite data and the use of simple models to constrain surface melting. We find that hydrologically forced ice acceleration occurs each year along a 115 km transect, first at sites nearest the ice sheet margin and at locations further inland following the onset of surface melting at higher elevations. At sites near the ice sheet margin, the relationship between surface melting and ice velocity is not consistent throughout the melt season, and ice velocity becomes less sensitive to inputs of meltwater later in the summer. This is explained by development in the efficiency of the subglacial drainage system, in a manner similar to Alpine glaciers. We perform a hydrological study which indicates that an efficient subglacial drainage system expands upglacier over the course of the melt season, in response to inputs of water from the ice sheet surface. At higher elevation sites, however, thicker ice and colder temperatures mean that it is harder to generate enough water to reach the ice-bed interface and this only occurs once enough water has accumulated to propagate fractures through thick ice to the bed. One mechanism which allows this is drainage of supraglacial lakes. Inter-annual comparison shows that increased rates of annual ablation lead to higher annual ice velocities. At high elevation sites (>1000 m), timing of drainage of meltwater to the ice-bed interface appears to be the main control on the the overall magnitude of summer acceleration. At lower elevations, although development in the structure of the subglacial drainage system limits the overall summer acceleration signal, short-term variability in meltwater input can sustain high ice velocities even once the subglacial drainage system has become channelised. Overall, the research presented in this thesis suggests that hydrologically-forced acceleration can increase mass loss from the GrIS in a warmer climate due to inland expansion of the area of the ice sheet bed which is subject to inputs of meltwater from the ice sheet surface. The relationship between surface melting and ice velocity is mediated, however, by the structure of the subglacial drainage system and variations in the rate of meltwater drainage to the ice bed interface. Insights from this work can help in the development of numerical ice sheet models which aim to predict the future contribution to sea-level rise from the Greenland Ice Sheet.