Recent increases in ice discharge from marine outlet glaciers in Greenland (e.g., [1], [2]) have been associated with ice-ocean interactions (e.g., [3], [4], [5]). Warming of subsurface waters in contact with the submarine bases of these glaciers result in additional melting of the ice and changes to the stress balance of the ice flow.

Here’s a short video from WHOI physical oceanographer Fiamma Straneo explaining the connection between ocean conditions and climate-driven changes to Greenland glaciers (she also describes some of the challenges in conducting scientific research in the far north).

Currently, numerical ice-dynamic models are not suitably equipped to capture these interactions and therefore this hampers our ability to predict Greenland’s contribution to sea level rise.  Part of my research aim is to work towards improving ice-flow models so that they better represent these processes.


[1] Joughin, I., Abdalati, W., Fahenstock, M., 2004. Large fluctuations in speed on Greenland’s Jakobshavn Isbrae Glacier. Nature 432, 608-610.

[2] Rignot, E., Kanagaratnam, P., 2006. Changes in the velocity structure of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Science 311, 986–990.

[3] Holland, D. M., Thomas, R. H., Young, B. D., Ribergaard, M. H., 2008. Acceleration of Jakobshavn Isbrae triggered by warm subsurface ocean waters. Nat. Geosci. 1, 659–664.

[4] Straneo, F., Hamilton, G. S., Sutherland, D. S., Stearns, L. A., Davidson, F., Hammill, M. O., Stenson, G. B., Rosing-Asvid, A., 2010. Rapid circulation of warm subtropical waters in a major glacial fjord in East Greenland. Nat. Geosci. 3, 182-186.

[5] Rignot, E., Koppes, M., Velicogna, I., 2010. Rapid submarine melting of the calving faces of West Greenland glaciers. Nat. Geosci. 3, 187-191.