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Heat flux variations beneath central Greenland’s ice due to anomalously thin lithosphere



At the Earth’s surface, heat fluxes from the interior1 are generally insignificant compared with those from the Sun and atmosphere2, except in areas permanently blanketed by ice. Modelling studies show that geothermal heat flux influences the internal thermal structure of ice sheets and the distribution of basal melt water3, and it should be taken into account in planning deep ice drilling campaigns and climate reconstructions4. Here we use a coupled ice–lithosphere model driven by climate and show that the oldest and thickest part of the Greenland Ice Sheet is strongly influenced by heat flow from the deep Earth. We find that the geothermal heat flux in central Greenland increases from west to east due to thinning of the lithosphere, which is only about 25–66% as thick as is typical for terrains of early Proterozoic age5. Complex interactions between geothermal heat flow and glaciation-induced thermal perturbations in the upper crust over glacial cycles lead to strong regional variations in basal ice conditions, with areas of rapid basal melting adjoining areas of extremely cold basal ice. Our findings demonstrate the role that the structure of the solid Earth plays in the dynamics of surface processes.

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Figure 1: Study area and data sets suggesting anomalous thermal state of central Greenland lithosphere.
Figure 2: Modelled Curie depths versus thickness of thermal lithosphere derived from 1D simulations of ice–lithosphere evolution at the GRIP ice core location.
Figure 3: Influence of Greenland glaciation onset and GIS evolution on terrestrial heat flow in the upper crust.
Figure 4: Modelled present-day thermal states of lithosphere and basal ice in central Greenland.


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This study is a part of the multinational research initiative IceGeoHeat (I. Rogozhina, A. Petrunin, B. Steinberger, M. K. Kaban, I. Artemieva, J. V. Johnson, L. Tarasov, A. P. M. Vaughan, I. Kukkonen, I. Koulakov, W. Stolk, Z. Martinec, A. Shulgin and A. Tassara). The IceGeoHeat members are grateful to DynaQlim and COSC for financial support. Special thanks to C. Fox Maule for sharing the map of Curie depths with us.

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I.R. and A.P.M.V. wrote the manuscript. A.G.P. and I.R. designed the study and conducted all analyses. I.T.K. shared unpublished data derived from new boreholes in western Greenland. I.K. shared his P-wave tomography before its publication. All authors contributed to discussions and interpretations of the results.

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Correspondence to A. G. Petrunin or I. Rogozhina.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Petrunin, A., Rogozhina, I., Vaughan, A. et al. Heat flux variations beneath central Greenland’s ice due to anomalously thin lithosphere. Nature Geosci 6, 746–750 (2013).

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