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Sustained mass loss of the northeast Greenland ice sheet triggered by regional warming

Abstract

The Greenland ice sheet has been one of the largest contributors to global sea-level rise over the past 20 years, accounting for 0.5 mm yr−1 of a total of 3.2 mm yr−1. A significant portion of this contribution is associated with the speed-up of an increased number of glaciers in southeast and northwest Greenland. Here, we show that the northeast Greenland ice stream, which extends more than 600 km into the interior of the ice sheet, is now undergoing sustained dynamic thinning, linked to regional warming, after more than a quarter of a century of stability. This sector of the Greenland ice sheet is of particular interest, because the drainage basin area covers 16% of the ice sheet (twice that of Jakobshavn Isbræ) and numerical model predictions suggest no significant mass loss for this sector, leading to an under-estimation of future global sea-level rise. The geometry of the bedrock and monotonic trend in glacier speed-up and mass loss suggests that dynamic drawdown of ice in this region will continue in the near future.

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Figure 1: Changes in surface elevations obtained using ICESat, ATM, LVIS and ENVISAT data (Supplementary Section 1.0).
Figure 2: Surface speed, mass loss rates and climate data.
Figure 3: Surface elevation change rates in northeast Greenland using aerial photographs, ICESat, ATM, LVIS and ENVISAT data.
Figure 4: Calving front positions, bed and velocity profiles along the main flow line of NG and ZI.
Figure 5: Sea ice concentration along the northeast Greenland coast.

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Acknowledgements

S.A.K., K.H.K. and I.S.M. were supported by the Danish Research Council (FNU). K.H.K. acknowledges support from Danish National Research Foundation (DNRF94-GeoGenetics). N.K.L. acknowledges support from the Danish Research Council no. 272-09-0095 and the VILLUM Foundation.

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S.A.K. led the writing of the paper and conceived the study. S.A.K. analysed ENVISAT, ICESat, ATM, LVIS data surface and subsurface ocean temperatures. S.A.K. analysed GPS data. J.W. analysed GRACE data. A.A.B. analysed air temperature and glacier front positions. M.R.v.d.B. analysed SMB data. N.J.K. analysed 1978 aerial photographs. All authors contributed to data interpretation and writing of the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Shfaqat A. Khan or Lin Liu.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Khan, S., Kjær, K., Bevis, M. et al. Sustained mass loss of the northeast Greenland ice sheet triggered by regional warming. Nature Clim Change 4, 292–299 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2161

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