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Bathymetry constrains ocean heat supply to Greenland’s largest glacier tongue

Schaffer, Janin; Kanzow, Torsten; von Appen, Wilken-Jon; von Albedyll, Luisa; Arndt, Jan Erik; Roberts, David H.

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Janin Schaffer

Torsten Kanzow

Wilken-Jon von Appen

Luisa von Albedyll

Jan Erik Arndt


Mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet has increased over the past two decades, currently accounting for 25% of global sea-level rise. This is due to increased surface melt driven by atmospheric warming and the retreat and acceleration of marine-terminating glaciers forced by oceanic heat transport. We use ship-based profiles, bathymetric data and moored time series from 2016 to 2017 of temperature, salinity and water velocity collected in front of the floating tongue of the 79 North Glacier in Northeast Greenland. These observations indicate that a year-round bottom-intensified inflow of warm Atlantic Water through a narrow channel is constrained by a sill. The associated heat transport leads to a mean melt rate of 10.4 ± 3.1 m yr–1 on the bottom of the floating glacier tongue. The interface height between warm Atlantic Water and colder overlying water above the sill controls the ocean heat transport’s temporal variability. Historical hydrographic data show that the interface height has risen over the past two decades, implying an increase in the basal melt rate. Additional temperature profiles at the neighbouring Zachariæ Isstrøm suggest that ocean heat transport here is similarly controlled by a near-glacier sill. We conclude that near-glacier, sill-controlled ocean heat transport plays a crucial role for glacier stability.


Schaffer, J., Kanzow, T., von Appen, W., von Albedyll, L., Arndt, J. E., & Roberts, D. H. (2020). Bathymetry constrains ocean heat supply to Greenland’s largest glacier tongue. Nature Geoscience, 13(3), 227-231.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 19, 2019
Online Publication Date Feb 3, 2020
Publication Date 2020
Deposit Date Mar 1, 2020
Publicly Available Date Aug 3, 2020
Journal Nature Geoscience
Print ISSN 1752-0894
Electronic ISSN 1752-0908
Publisher Nature Research
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 13
Issue 3
Pages 227-231


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