During the early 2000s the Greenland Ice Sheet experienced the largest ice-mass loss of the instrumental record1, largely as a result of the acceleration, thinning and retreat of large outlet glaciers in West and southeast Greenland2,3,4,5. The quasi-simultaneous change in the glaciers suggests a common climate forcing. Increasing air6 and ocean7,8 temperatures have been indicated as potential triggers. Here, we present a record of calving activity of Helheim Glacier, East Greenland, that extends back to about AD 1890, based on an analysis of sedimentary deposits from Sermilik Fjord, where Helheim Glacier terminates. Specifically, we use the annual deposition of sand grains as a proxy for iceberg discharge. Our record reveals large fluctuations in calving rates, but the present high rate was reproduced only in the 1930s. A comparison with climate indices indicates that high calving activity coincides with a relatively strong influence of Atlantic water and a lower influence of polar water on the shelf off Greenland, as well as with warm summers and the negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation. Our analysis provides evidence that Helheim Glacier responds to short-term fluctuations of large-scale oceanic and atmospheric conditions, on timescales of 3–10 years.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $15.58 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Rignot, E. & Kanagaratnam, P. Changes in the velocity structure of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Science 311, 986–990 (2006).
Joughin, I., Abdalati, W. & Fahnestock, M. Large fluctuations in speed on Greenland’s Jakobshavn Isbræ glacier. Nature 432, 608–610 (2004).
Luckman, A., Murray, T., de Lange, R. & Hanna, E. Rapid and synchronous ice-dynamic changes in East Greenland. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L03503 (2006).
Stearns, L. A. & Hamilton, G. S. Rapid volume loss from two East Greenland outlet glaciers quantified using repeat stereo satellite imagery. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L05503 (2007).
Howat, I. M., Joughin, I. & Scambos, T. A. Rapid changes in ice discharge from Greenland Outlet Glaciers. Science 315, 1559–1561 (2007).
Box, J.E., Yang, L., Browmich, D.H & Bai, L-S. Greenland ice sheet surface air temperature variability: 1840–2007. J. Clim. 22, 4029–4049 (2009).
Holland, D. M., Thomas, R. H., de Young, B., Ribergaard, M. H. & Lyberth, B. Acceleration of Jakobshavn Isbrae triggered by warm subsurface ocean waters. Nature Geosci. 1, 659–664 (2008).
Murray, T. et al. Ocean regulation hypothesis for glacier dynamics in southeast Greenland and implications for ice sheet mass changes. J. Geophys. Res. 115, F03026 (2010).
Joughin, I. et al. Ice-front variation and tidewater behavior on Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq Glaciers, Greenland. J. Geophys. Res. 113, F01004 (2008).
Nick, F. M., Vieli, A., Howat, I., M. & Joughin, I. Large-scale changes in Greenland outlet glacier dynamics triggered at the terminus. Nature Geosci. 2, 110–114 (2009).
Straneo, F. et al. Rapid circulation of warm subtropical waters in a major glacial fjord in East Greenland. Nature Geosci. 3, 182–186 (2010).
Straneo, F. et al. Impact of fjord dynamics and glacial runoff on the circulation near Helheim Glacier. Nature Geosci. 4, 322–327 (2011).
Mernild, S. H. et al. Freshwater flux to Sermilik Fjord, SE Greenland. Cryosphere 4, 453–465 (2010).
Syvitski, J. P. M., Andrews, J. T. & Dowdeswell, J. A. Sediment deposition in an iceberg-dominated glacimarine environment, East Greenland: basin fill implications. Glob. Planet. Change 12, 251–270 (1996).
Dowdeswell, J. A. et al. An origin for laminated glacimarine sediments through sea-ice build-up and suppressed iceberg rafting. Sedimentology 47, 557–576 (2000).
Mugford, R. I. & Dowdeswell, J. A. Modeling iceberg-rafted sedimentation in high-latitude fjord environments. J. Geophys. Res. 115, F03024 (2010).
Amundson, J. M. et al. Ice mélange dynamics and implications for terminus stability, Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland. J. Geophys. Res. 115, F01005 (2010).
Jennings, A. E. & Weiner, N. J. Environmental changes in eastern Greenland during the last 1300 years: Evidence from foraminifera and lithofacies changes in Nansen Fjord, 68° N. Holocene 6, 179–191 (1996).
Zwally, H. J. et al. Surface melt induced acceleration of Greenland ice-sheet flow. Science 297, 218–222 (2002).
Andersen, M. L. et al. Spatial and temporal melt variability at Helheim Glacier, East Greenland, and its effect on ice dynamics. J. Geophys. Res. 115, F04041 (2010).
Benn, D. I., Hulton, N. R. J. & Mottram, R. H. ‘Calving laws’, ‘sliding laws’ and the stability of tidewater glaciers. Ann. Glaciol. 46, 123–130 (2007).
Motyka, R. J. et al. Submarine Melting of the 1985 Jakobshavn Isbrae Floating Ice Tongue and the triggering of the current retreat. J. Geophys. Res. 116, F01007 (2011).
Thomas, R. H. et al. Substantial thinning of a major east Greenland outlet glacier. Geophys. Res. Lett. 27, 1291–1294 (2000).
Schmith, T. & Hansen, C. Fram strait ice export during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries reconstructed from a multiyear sea ice index from Southwestern Greenland. J. Clim. 16, 2782–2791 (2003).
Cappelen, J. (ed.) DMI Daily Climate Data Collection 1873–2010, Denmark, The Faroe Islands and Greenland—Including Air Pressure Observations 1874–2010 (WASA Data Sets) DMI Technical Report 11–06 (DMI, 2011).
Hurrell, J. W. Decadal trends in the North Atlantic Oscillation: Regional temperatures and precipitation. Science 269, 676–679 (1995).
Warren, C. R. Iceberg calving and the glacioclimatic record. Prog. Phys. Geogr. 16, 253–282 (1992).
Schlesinger, M. E. & Ramankutty, N. An oscillation in the global climate system of period 65–70 years. Nature 367, 723–726 (2004).
Dickson, et al. The Arctic Ocean response to the North Atlantic Oscillation. J. Clim. 13, 2671–2696 (2000).
Belkin, I. M. Propagation of the ‘Great Salinity Anomaly’ of the 1990s around the northern North Atlantic. Geophys. Res. Lett. 31, L08306 (2004).
This study has been supported by Geocenter Denmark in financial support to the SEDIMICE project. C.S.A. was supported by the Danish Council for Independent Research | Nature and Universe (Grant no. 09-064954/FNU). F. Straneo was supported by NSF ARC 0909373 and by WHOI’s Ocean and Climate Change Institute and M.H.R. was supported by the Danish Agency for Science, Technology and Innovation. We thank Y. O. Kwon for insightful discussions on the climate data analysis and K. K. Kjeldsen for help with the digital elevation model image.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Andresen, C., Straneo, F., Ribergaard, M. et al. Rapid response of Helheim Glacier in Greenland to climate variability over the past century. Nature Geosci 5, 37–41 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1349
Geophysical Research Letters (2020)
Scientific Reports (2019)
Atmospheric response to mid-Holocene warming in the northeastern Atlantic: Implications for future storminess in the Ireland/UK region
Quaternary Science Reviews (2019)
Frontiers in Marine Science (2019)
Nature Communications (2019)