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Accelerating uplift in the North Atlantic region as an indicator of ice loss

Abstract

Vertical motions of the rocky margins of Greenland and Antarctica respond to mass changes of their respective ice sheets1,2. However, these motions can be obscured by episodes of glacial advance or retreat that occurred hundreds to thousands of years ago3,4,5,6, which trigger a delayed response because of viscous flow in the underlying mantle. Here we present high-precision global positioning system (GPS) data that describe the vertical motion of the rocky margins of Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard. We focus on vertical accelerations rather than velocities to avoid the confounding effects of past events. Our data show an acceleration of uplift over the past decade that represents an essentially instantaneous, elastic response to the recent accelerated melting of ice throughout the North Atlantic region. Our comparison of the GPS data to models for glacial isostatic adjustment suggests that some parts of western coastal Greenland were experiencing accelerated melting of coastal ice by the late 1990s. Using a simple elastic model, we estimate that western Greenland’s ice loss is accelerating at an average rate of 8.7±3.5 Gt yr−2, whereas the rate for southeastern Greenland—based on limited data—falls at 12.5±5.5 Gt yr−2.

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Figure 1: Location of GPS sites used in this study.
Figure 2: Representative GPS time series for the North Atlantic region, showing site name and acceleration.
Figure 3: Histogram of vertical acceleration for GPS sites.
Figure 4: Rate estimates versus time for Greenland.

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Acknowledgements

We thank R. Alley, S. Anandakrishnan, A. Clement and P. Koons for discussions. The GPS data used in this study are archived at SOPAC and CDDIS, generously made available by a number of national mapping and geodetic authorities including NMA, KMS, FGI, LMV and NRCan, the Universities of Colorado, Newcastle, Nottingham and Latvia, and other members of IGS. US-funded stations in Greenland are maintained by UNAVCO. This work was supported by grants from ONR, NSF and NASA. Y.J. was supported by a NASA Fellowship.

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Y.J. processed the GPS data, conducted the time series analysis and wrote the manuscript. S.W. constructed the elastic model and error analysis. T.H.D. designed the study, did the background research and edited the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Timothy H. Dixon.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Jiang, Y., Dixon, T. & Wdowinski, S. Accelerating uplift in the North Atlantic region as an indicator of ice loss. Nature Geosci 3, 404–407 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo845

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