Zachariae Isstrøm (ZI) and Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden (79N) are marine-terminating glaciers in northeast Greenland that hold an ice volume equivalent to a 1.1-m global sea level rise. ZI lost its floating ice shelf, sped up, retreated at 650 m/y, and experienced a 5-gigaton/y mass loss. Glacier 79N has been more stable despite its exposure to the same climate forcing. We analyze the impact of ocean thermal forcing on the glaciers. A three-dimensional inversion of airborne gravity data reveals an 800-m-deep, broad channel that allows subsurface, warm, Atlantic Intermediate Water (AIW) (+1.[Formula: see text]C) to reach the front of ZI via two sills at 350-m depth. Subsurface ocean temperature in that channel has warmed by 1.3[Formula: see text]C since 1979. Using an ocean model, we calculate a rate of ice removal at the grounding line by the ocean that increased from 108 m/y to 185 m/y in 1979-2019. Observed ice thinning caused a retreat of its flotation line to increase from 105 m/y to 217 m/y, for a combined grounding line retreat of 13 km in 41 y that matches independent observations within 14%. In contrast, the limited access of AIW to 79N via a narrower passage yields lower grounded ice removal (53 m/y to 99 m/y) and thinning-induced retreat (27 m/y to 50 m/y) for a combined retreat of 4.4 km, also within 12% of observations. Ocean-induced removal of ice at the grounding line, modulated by bathymetric barriers, is therefore a main driver of ice sheet retreat, but it is not incorporated in most ice sheet models.
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|Number of pages||8|
|Publication status||Published - 2021|