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Front. Earth Sci. | doi: 10.3389/feart.2019.00123

Exceptional retreat of Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier, east Greenland, between 2016 and 2018

  • 1Newcastle University, United Kingdom
  • 2University of Liverpool, United Kingdom

Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier is one of Greenland’s largest tidewater outlet glaciers, accounting for approximately 5 % of all ice discharge from the Greenland ice sheet. In 2018 the Kangerdlussuaq ice front reached its most retreated position since observations began in 1932. We determine the relationship between retreat and: (i) ice velocity; and (ii) surface elevation change, to assess the impact of the retreat on the glacier trunk. Between 2016 and 2018 the glacier retreated ~5 km and brought the Kangerdlussuaq ice front into a major (~15 km long) overdeepening. Coincident with this retreat, the glacier thinned as a result of near-terminus acceleration in ice flow. The subglacial topography means that 2016-18 terminus recession is likely to trigger a series of feedbacks between retreat, thinning and glacier acceleration, leading to a rapid and high-magnitude increase in discharge and sea level rise contribution. Dynamic thinning may continue until the glacier reaches the upward sloping bed ~10 km inland of its current position. Incorporating these non-linear processes into prognostic models of the ice sheet to 2100 and beyond will be critical for accurate forecasting of the ice sheet’s contribution to sea level rise.

Keywords: Greenland ice sheet, Marine-terminating glaciers, Basal topography, ice discharge, mass balance, Glacier retreat, sea level rise, remote sensing

Received: 22 Dec 2018; Accepted: 08 May 2019.

Edited by:

Shin Sugiyama, Hokkaido University, Japan

Reviewed by:

Johannes J. Fürst, University of Erlangen Nuremberg, Germany
David Loibl, Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany  

Copyright: © 2019 Brough, Carr, Ross and Lea. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Stephen P. Brough, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom,