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Large fluctuations in speed on Greenland's Jakobshavn Isbræ glacier

Nature volume 432, pages 608610 (02 December 2004) | Download Citation

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Abstract

It is important to understand recent changes in the velocity of Greenland glaciers because the mass balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet is partly determined by the flow rates of these outlets. Jakobshavn Isbræ is Greenland's largest outlet glacier1, draining about 6.5 per cent of the ice-sheet area, and it has been surveyed repeatedly since 1991 (ref. 2). Here we use remote sensing data to measure the velocity of Jakobshavn Isbræ between 1992 and 2003. We detect large variability of the velocity over time, including a slowing down from 6,700 m yr-1 in 1985 to 5,700 m yr-1 in 1992, and a subsequent speeding up to 9,400 m yr-1 by 2000 and 12,600 m yr-1 in 2003. These changes are consistent with earlier evidence for thickening of the glacier in the early 1990s and rapid thinning thereafter3. Our observations indicate that fast-flowing glaciers can significantly alter ice discharge at sub-decadal timescales, with at least a potential to respond rapidly to a changing climate.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Cryospheric Sciences Program of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise. I.J. performed his contribution at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. We thank H. Brecher for the 1985 velocity data and B. Csatho, K. In Huh and S. Manizade for acquiring and orthorectifying the Landsat imagery. Radarsat data were provided by CSA through ASF and ERS SAR data were provided by ESA through the VECTRA project.Author contributions All authors contributed equally to this work.

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Author notes

    • Ian Joughin

    Present address: Polar Science Center, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, 1013 NE 40th Street, Seattle, Washington, 9810-6698, USA

Affiliations

  1. Jet Propulsion Lab, California Institute of Technology, USA

    • Ian Joughin
  2. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Oceans and Ice Branch, Code 971, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA

    • Waleed Abdalati
  3. Complex Systems Research Center, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire 03824, USA

    • Mark Fahnestock

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Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Ian Joughin.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03130

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