Ocean forcing drives glacier retreat in Greenland

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Jan 1, 2021, Science Advances


The retreat and acceleration of Greenland glaciers since the mid-1990s have been attributed to the enhanced intrusion of warm Atlantic Waters (AW) into fjords, but this assertion has not been quantitatively tested on a Greenland-wide basis or included in models. Here, we investigate how AW influenced retreat at 226 marine-terminating glaciers using ocean modeling, remote sensing, and in situ observations. We identify 74 glaciers in deep fjords with AW controlling 49 percent of the mass loss that retreated when warming increased undercutting by 48percent. Conversely, 27 glaciers calving on shallow ridges and 24 in cold, shallow waters retreated little, contributing 15 percent of the loss, while 10 glaciers retreated substantially following the collapse of several ice shelves. The retreat mechanisms remain undiagnosed at 87 glaciers without ocean and bathymetry data, which controlled 19 percent of the loss. Ice sheet projections that exclude ocean-induced undercutting may underestimate mass loss by at least a factor of 2.