Rapid response of Helheim Glacier in Greenland to climate variability over the past century Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • During the early 2000s the Greenland Ice Sheet experienced the largest ice mass loss observed on the instrumental record1, largely as a result of the acceleration, thinning and retreat of major outlet glaciers in West and Southeast Greenland2-5. The quasi-simultaneous change in the glaciers suggests a common climate forcing and increasing air6 and ocean7-8 temperatures have been indicated as potential triggers. Here, we present a new record of calving activity of Helheim Glacier, East Greenland, extending back to c. 1890 AD. This record was obtained by analysing sedimentary deposits from Sermilik Fjord, where Helheim Glacier terminates, and uses the annual deposition of sand grains as a proxy for iceberg discharge. The 120 year long record reveals large fluctuations in calving rates, but that the present high rate was reproduced only in the 1930s. A comparison with climate indices indicates that high calving activity coincides with increased Atlantic Water and decreased Polar Water influence on the shelf, warm summers and a negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation. Our analysis provides evidence that Helheim Glacier responds to short-term (3-10 years) large-scale oceanic and atmospheric fluctuations.

publication date

  • January 2012