Global warming is predicted to have a profound impact on the Greenland Ice Sheet and its contribution to global sea-level rise. Recent mass loss in the northwest of Greenland has been substantial. Using aerial photographs, we produced digital elevation models and extended the time record of recent observed marginal dynamic thinning back to the mid-1980s. We reveal two independent dynamic ice loss events on the northwestern Greenland Ice Sheet margin: from 1985 to 1993 and 2005 to 2010, which were separated by limited mass changes. Our results suggest that the ice mass changes in this sector were primarily caused by short-lived dynamic ice loss events rather than changes in the surface mass balance. This finding challenges predictions about the future response of the Greenland Ice Sheet to increasing global temperatures.