Oceanography The Official Magazine of
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Volume 29 Issue 04

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Volume 29, No. 4
Pages 34 - 45


Connecting the Greenland Ice Sheet and the Ocean: A Case Study of Helheim Glacier and Sermilik Fjord

By Fiammetta Straneo , Gordon S. Hamilton, Leigh A. Stearns , and David A. Sutherland 
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Article Abstract

The rapid ice loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet that began in the late 1990s sparked an interest in glacier/ocean exchanges both because an increase in submarine melting of the glacier is a potential trigger of glacier retreat and because the increasing freshwater discharge can affect the regional ocean’s circulation and ecosystems. An interdisciplinary field project focused on the Helheim Glacier-Sermilik Fjord system began in 2008 and has continued to date. We found that warm, Atlantic Water flows into the fjord, drives melting of the glacier, and is regularly replenished through shelf-forced and glacier-driven circulations. In summer, the release of surface melt at the base of the glacier has a pronounced impact on local ocean circulation, the properties of the glacier, and its melt rate. Measurements taken in the fjord indicate that it is virtually impossible to derive submarine melt rates from hydrographic (including moored) data due to the fjord’s pronounced water mass variability and uncertain contribution from iceberg melt. Efforts to correlate glacier behavior with ocean forcing on seasonal and interannual time scales yield no straightforward connections, likely because of a dependence on a wider range of parameters, including subglacial discharge and bedrock geometry. This project emphasizes the need for sustained long-term measurements of multiple glacier/ocean/atmosphere systems to understand the different dynamics that control their evolution. 


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