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A reconstruction of warm-water inflow to Upernavik Isstrøm since 1925 CE and its relation to glacier retreat

New publication by Flor Vermassen, Nanna Andreasen, David J. Wangner, Nicolas Thibault, Marit-Solveig Seidenkrantz, Rebecca Jackson, Sabine Schmidt, Kurt H. Kjær, and Camilla S. Andresen


The mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet has increased over the past 2 decades. Marine-terminating glaciers contribute significantly to this mass loss due to increased melting and ice discharge. Periods of rapid retreat of these tidewater glaciers have been linked to the concurrent inflow of warm Atlantic-sourced waters. However, little is known about the variability of these Atlantic-derived waters within the fjords, due to a lack of multi-annual in situ measurements. Thus, to better understand the potential role of ocean warming on glacier retreat, reconstructions that characterize the variability of Atlantic water inflow to the fjords are required. Here, we investigate foraminiferal assemblages in a sediment core from Upernavik Fjord, West Greenland, in which the major ice stream Upernavik Isstrøm terminates. We conclude that the foraminiferal assemblage is predominantly controlled by changes in bottom water composition and provide a reconstruction of Atlantic water inflow to Upernavik Fjord, spanning the period 1925–2012. This reconstruction reveals peak Atlantic water influx during the 1930s and again after 2000, a pattern that is comparable to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). The comparison of these results to historical observations of front positions of Upernavik Isstrøm reveals that inflow of warm Atlantic-derived waters likely contributed to high retreat rates in the 1930s and after 2000. However, moderate retreat rates of Upernavik Isstrøm also prevailed in the 1960s and 1970s, showing that glacier retreat continued despite a reduced Atlantic water inflow, albeit at a lower rate. Considering the link between bottom water variability and the AMO in Upernavik Fjord, and the fact that a persistent negative phase of the AMO is expected for the next decade, Atlantic water inflow into the fjord may decrease in the coming decade, potentially minimizing or stabilizing the retreat of Upernavik Isstrøm during this time interval.