Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Subglacial Discharge and Its Down-Fjord Transformation in West Greenland Fjords With an Ice Mélange

New publication by John Mortensen, Søren Rysgaard, Jørgen Bendtsen, Kunuk Lennert, Torsten Kanzow, Henrik Lund, Lorenz Meire

2020.10.22 | Peter Schmidt Mikkelsen


Buoyant freshwater released at depth from under Greenland's marine‐terminating glaciers gives rise to vigorous buoyant discharge plumes adjacent to the termini. The water mass found down fjord formed by mixing of buoyant subglacial freshwater and ambient fjord water and subsequent modification by glacial ice melt in the ice mélange is referred to as subglacial water. It substantially affects both the physical and chemical properties of the fjords' marine environment. Despite the importance of this freshwater source, many uncertainties remain regarding its transformation and detection. Here we present observations close to a marine‐terminating glacier in a fjord with substantial ice mélange and follow the down‐fjord changes of the subglacial discharge plume. Heat brought to the surface by entrainment of warm ambient fjord water into the rising plume causes intense melting of the ice mélange close to the plume pool. This results in an increase of glacial ice melt fraction to total glacial meltwater from 1–2% in the plume pool to ~18% eleven kilometers down‐fjord, with the largest increase being observed within the first few kilometers. Down‐fjord of the ice mélange two temperature minima bound the layer containing subglacial water. The upper bound is linked to the adjacent ice mélange and down‐fjord runoff sources, whereas the lower bound is linked to the stratification of the ambient water. We show that similar bounds can be observed in other marine‐terminating glacier fjords along West Greenland that contain an ice mélange, suggesting that similar processes work in other fjords.


Arctic Research Centre