Historical aerial imagery reveals rapid frontal retreat following the 1920’s warming in southeast Greenland

Publication: ResearchConference abstract for conference – Annual report year: 2012

  • Author: Bjørk, Anders Anker

    Natural History Museum of Denmark, Denmark

  • Author: Kjær, Kurt H.

    Natural History Museum of Denmark, Denmark

  • Author: Korsgaard, Niels Jákup

    Natural History Museum of Denmark, Denmark

  • Author: Khan, Shfaqat Abbas

    Geodesy, National Space Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Elektrovej, 2800, Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark

  • Author: Kjeldsen, Kristian Kjellerup

    Natural History Museum of Denmark, Denmark

  • Author: Andresen, Camilla S

    Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Denmark

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The Greenland ice sheet (GIS) is undergoing massive changes in its frontal positions, velocity structure, and overall mass balance. Since 2000, marine and terrestrial terminating glaciers in southeast Greenland have experienced dramatic frontal retreat and dynamic thinning in response to increased sea surface and air temperatures. However, little is known about the long term glacier history prior to the satellite era. Here we show a unique record of the frontal history of 132 glaciers in southeast Greenland based on historical aerial and satellite imagery from 1933 to 2010.

Our results demonstrate decadal sensitivity to temperature changes with rapid retreat following the early century warming (1919-1932) and glacial advance during a minor, but profound mid century cooling (1955-1972) succeeded by the present warming again leading to massive retreat. One significant finding lies in the similarity of the retreat following the early century warming and the latest decade, with a majority of the 132 glaciers exhibiting larger retreat rates in the early period. Furthermore, during the mid century cooling glaciers in southeast Greenland showed a surprisingly rapid response to the cooling, indicating that stabilization and subsequent advance can occur with a short cooling period. Marine terminating glaciers originating from the GIS experienced the largest frontal fluctuations often out of sync with local glaciers and ice caps indicating a larger coherence with ocean temperatures, whereas local glaciers and ice caps and GIS terrestrial terminating glaciers shows frontal fluctuations closely related to the air temperature.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2012
StatePublished - 2012
Event2011 AGU Fall Meeting - San Francisco, CA, United States


Conference2011 AGU Fall Meeting
CountryUnited States
CitySan Francisco, CA
Internet address


  • CRYOSPHERE, Glaciers
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ID: 10155958