Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Interruption of two decades of Jakobshavn Isbrae acceleration and thinning as regional ocean cools

An Author Correction to this article was published on 20 May 2019

This article has been updated

Abstract

Jakobshavn Isbrae has been the single largest source of mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet over the last 20 years. During that time, it has been retreating, accelerating and thinning. Here we use airborne altimetry and satellite imagery to show that since 2016 Jakobshavn has been re-advancing, slowing and thickening. We link these changes to concurrent cooling of ocean waters in Disko Bay that spill over into Ilulissat Icefjord. Ocean temperatures in the bay’s upper 250 m have cooled to levels not seen since the mid 1980s. Observations and modelling trace the origins of this cooling to anomalous wintertime heat loss in the boundary current that circulates around the southern half of Greenland. Longer time series of ocean temperature, subglacial discharge and glacier variability strongly suggest that ocean-induced melting at the front has continued to influence glacier dynamics after the disintegration of its floating tongue in 2003. We conclude that projections of Jakobshavn’s future contribution to sea-level rise that are based on glacier geometry are insufficient, and that accounting for external forcing is indispensable.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: The study area and recent thickening observations.
Fig. 2: Surface elevation changes and bed depths along the main trunk of Jakobshavn.
Fig. 3: Ocean forcing and glacier response.

Data availability

Data are available in the following public repositories, or upon request from the indicated authors. The GLISTIN ice data and the airborne expendable CTD oceanographic data are available at the OMG website: https://omg.jpl.nasa.gov/portal/browse/. The Operation IceBridge ATM data are available from the NSIDC website at https://nsidc.org/data/icebridge/data_summaries.html. The flow speed data used in this study are available from A.G. (Alex.S.Gardner@jpl.nasa.gov) upon request. The Landsat 4, 5, 7 and 8 data, used in inferring glacier flow speeds and front locations, are available at https://cloud.google.com/storage/docs/public-datasets/landsat. The Sentinel-2a/b data used in inferring flow speeds are available at https://cloud.google.com/storage/docs/public-datasets/sentinel-2. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea oceanographic data are available at http://ices.dk/Pages/default.aspx and http://ices.dk/marine-data/data-portals/Pages/ocean.aspx. The ECCO Version 4 Release 3 and Version 5 Release alpha ocean and sea-ice products are available at http://ecco.jpl.nasa.gov and ftp://ecco.jpl.nasa.gov/Version5/Alpha/. The RACMO2.3p2 data are available from B.P.Y.N. (B.P.Y.Noel@uu.nl) and M.R.v.d.B. (M.R.vandenBroeke@uu.nl) upon request. Bed topography and fjord bathymetry BedMachine Version v3 data are available at http://sites.uci.edu/morlighem/dataproducts/bedmachine-greenland.

Change history

  • 20 May 2019

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.

References

  1. 1.

    Joughin, I., Smith, B. E., Shean, D. E. & Floricioiu, D. Brief communication: further summer speedup of Jakobshavn Isbræ. Cryosphere 8, 209–214 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Bindschadler, R. Surface Topography of the Greenland Ice Sheet from Satellite Radar Altimetry (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Management, Scientific and Technical Information Division, 1989).

  3. 3.

    Howat, I., Joughin, I. & Scambos, T. Rapid changes in ice discharge from Greenland outlet glaciers. Science 315, 1559–1561 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Joughin, I. et al. Continued evolution of Jakobshavn Isbrae following its rapid speedup. J. Geophys. Res. 113, F04006 (2008).

  5. 5.

    Joughin, I. et al. Seasonal to decadal scale variations in the surface velocity of Jakobshavn Isbrae, Greenland: observation and model-based analysis. J. Geophys. Res. 117, F02030 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Moon, T., Joughin, I., Smith, B. & Howat, I. 21st-century evolution of Greenland outlet glacier velocities. Science 336, 576–578 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Enderlin, E. et al. An improved mass budget for the Greenland ice sheet. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 866–872 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Holland, D., Thomas, R., de Young, B., Ribergaard, M. & Lyberth, B. Acceleration of Jakobshavn Isbræ triggered by warm subsurface ocean waters. Nat. Geosci. 1, 659–664 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Motyka, R. et al. Submarine melting of the 1985 Jakobshavn Isbrae floating tongue and the triggering of the current retreat. J. Geophys. Res. 116, F01007 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Thomas, R. et al. Investigation of surface melting and dynamic thinning on Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland. J. Glaciol. 49, 231–239 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Truffer, M. & Motyka, R. Where glaciers meet water: subaqueous melt and its relevance to glaciers in various settings. Rev. Geophys. 54, 220–239 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Joughin, I., Abdalati, W. & Fahnestock, M. Large fluctuations in speed on Greenland’s Jakobshavn Isbræ glacier. Nature 432, 608–610 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Thomas, R. Force-perturbation analysis of recent thinning and acceleration of Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland. J. Glaciol. 50, 57–66 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Howat, I. et al. Mass balance of Greenland’s three largest outlet glaciers, 2000–2010. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L12501 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    McMillan, M. et al. A high-resolution record of Greenland mass balance. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 7002–7010 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Nick, F., Vieli, A., Howat, I. & Joughin, I. Large-scale changes in Greenland outlet glacier dynamics triggered at the terminus. Nat. Geosci. 2, 110–114 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Felikson, D. et al. Inland thinning on the Greenland ice sheet controlled by outlet glacier geometry. Nat. Geosci. 10, 366–369 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    McFadden, E., Howat, I., Joughin, I., Smith, B. & Ahn, Y. Changes in the dynamics of marine terminating outlet glaciers in west Greenland (2000–2009). J. Geophys. Res. 116, F02022 (2011).

  19. 19.

    Bondzio, J. et al. The mechanisms behind Jakobshavn Isbrae’s acceleration and mass loss: a 3-D thermomechanical model study. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 6252–6260 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Morlighem, M., Rignot, E., Mouginot, J., Seroussi, H. & Larour, E. Deeply incised submarine glacial valleys beneath the Greenland ice sheet. Nat. Geosci. 7, 418–422 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Schoof, C. Ice sheet grounding line dynamics: steady states, stability, and hysteresis. J. Geophys. Res. 112, F03S28 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Gudmundsson, G. Ice-shelf buttressing and the stability of marine ice sheets. Cryosphere 7, 647–655 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Fenty, I. et al. Oceans melting Greenland: early results from NASA’s ocean–ice mission in Greenland. Oceanography 29, 72–83 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Studinger, M. IceBridge ATM L2 Icessn Elevation, Slope, and Roughness Version 2 (NASA National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center, 2014, updated 2017); https://doi.org/10.5067/CPRXXK3F39RV

  25. 25.

    Holland, C., Rosing-Asvid, D., Behrens, A. & Boje, J. Oceanic boundary conditions for Jakobshavn Glacier. Part I: variability and renewal of Ilulissat Icefjord waters, 2001-14. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 45, 3–32 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Gladish, C., Holland, D. & Lee, C. Oceanic boundary conditions for Jakobshavn Glacier. Part II: provenance and sources of variability of Disko Bay and Ilulissat Icefjord waters, 1990–2011. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 45, 33–63 (2015).

  27. 27.

    Straneo, F. & Heimbach, P. North Atlantic warming and the retreat of Greenland’s outlet glaciers. Nature 504, 36–43 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Straneo, F. et al. Characteristics of ocean waters reaching Greenland’s glaciers. Ann. Glaciol. 53, 202–210 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Jenkins, A. Convection-driven melting near the grounding lines of ice shelves and tidewater glaciers. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 41, 2279–2294 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Xu, Y., Rignot, E., Menemenlis, D. & Koppes, M. Numerical experiments on subaqueous melting of Greenland tidewater glaciers in response to ocean warming and enhanced subglacial discharge. Ann. Glaciol. 53, 229–234 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Carroll, D. et al. The impact of glacier geometry on meltwater plume structure and submarine melt in Greenland fjords. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 9739–9748 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Straneo, F. et al. Challenges to understand the dynamic response of Greenland’s marine terminating glaciers to oceanic and atmospheric forcing. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 94, 1131–1144 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Slater, D., Goldberg, D., Nienow, P. & Cowton, T. Scalings for submarine melting at tidewater glaciers from buoyant plume theory. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 46, 1839–1855 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Amundson, J. et al. Ice mélange dynamics and implications for terminus stability, Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland. J. Geophys. Res. 115, F01005 (2010).

  35. 35.

    Cassotto, R., Fahnestock, M., Amundson, J., Truffer, M. & Joughin, I. Seasonal and interannual variations in ice melange and its impact on terminus stability, Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland. J. Glaciol. 61, 76–88 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Robel, A. Thinning sea ice weakens buttressing force of iceberg mélange and promotes calving. Nat. Commun. 8, 14596 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Van Der Veen, C., Plummer, J. & Stearns, L. Controls on the recent speed-up of Jakobshavn Isbræ, West Greenland. J. Glaciol. 57, 770–782 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Cavanagh, J., Lampkin, D. & Moon, T. Seasonal variability in regional ice flow due to meltwater injection into the shear margins of Jakobshavn Isbrae. J. Geophys. Res. Earth Surface 122, 2488–2505 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Lloyd, J. et al. A 100 yr record of ocean temperature control on the stability of Jakobshavn Isbrae, West Greenland. Geology 39, 867–870 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Vieli, A. & Nick, F. Understanding and modelling rapid dynamic changes of tidewater outlet glaciers: issues and implications. Surv. Geophys. 32, 437–458 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Csatho, B., Schenk, T., Van Der Veen, C. & Krabill, W. Intermittent thinning of Jakobshavn Isbræ, West Greenland, since the Little Ice Age. J. Glaciol. 54, 131–144 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Thomas, R. et al. Accelerating ice loss from the fastest Greenland and Antarctic glaciers. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L10502 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Walker, C. & Gardner, A. Rapid drawdown of Antarctica’s Wordie Ice Shelf glaciers in response to ENSO/Southern Annular Mode-driven warming in the Southern Ocean. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 476, 100–110 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Khazendar, A. et al. Rapid submarine ice melting in the grounding zones of ice shelves in West Antarctica. Nat. Commun. 7, 13243 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Rignot, E., Box, J., Burgess, E. & Hanna, E. Mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet from 1958 to 2007. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L20502 (2008).

  46. 46.

    Seroussi, H. et al. Continued retreat of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica, controlled by bed topography and ocean circulation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 6191–6199 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Krabill, W. et al. Aircraft laser altimetry measurement of elevation changes of the Greenland ice sheet: technique and accuracy assessment. J. Geodyn. 34, 357–376 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Khazendar, A., Borstad, C., Scheuchl, B., Rignot, E. & Seroussi, H. The evolving instability of the remnant Larsen B Ice Shelf and its tributary glaciers. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 419, 199–210 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Brunt, K. et al. Assessment of NASA airborne laser altimetry data using ground-based GPS data near Summit Station, Greenland. Cryosphere 11, 681–692 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Moller, D. et al. The glacier and land ice surface topography interferometer: an airborne proof-of-concept demonstration of high-precision Ka-band single-pass elevation mapping. IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens. 49, 827–842 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Hensley, S., Moller, D., Oveisgharan, S., Michel, T. & Wu, X. Ka-band mapping and measurements of interferometric penetration of the Greenland ice sheets by the GLISTIN radar. IEEE J. Sel. Topics Appl. Earth Observ. Remote Sens. 9, 2436–2450 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Gardner, A. et al. Increased West Antarctic and unchanged East Antarctic ice discharge over the last 7 years. Cryosphere 12, 521–547 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Joughin, I., Smith, B., Howat, I., Scambos, T. & Moon, T. Greenland flow variability from ice-sheet-wide velocity mapping. J. Glaciol. 56, 415–430 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Morlighem, M. et al. BedMachine v3: Complete bed topography and ocean bathymetry mapping of Greenland from multibeam echo sounding combined with mass conservation. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 11051–11061 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Boyer, T. P. et al. World Ocean Database 2013 (SilverSpring, accessed July 2018).

  56. 56.

    OMG (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, 2018); https://doi.org/10.5067/OMGEV-AXCTD

  57. 57.

    Fukumori, I. et al. ECCO Version 4 Release 3 (ECCO Consortium, 2017); http://hdl.handle.net/1721.1/110380

  58. 58.

    Forget, G. et al. ECCO version 4: an integrated framework for non-linear inverse modeling and global ocean state estimation. Geosci. Model Dev. 8, 3071–3104 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Zhang H., Menemenlis, D. & Fenty, I. ECCO LLC270 Ocean-Ice State Estimate (ECCO Consortium, 2018); http://doi.org/1721.1/119821

  60. 60.

    Roemmich, D. & Gilson, J. The 2004–2008 mean and annual cycle of temperature, salinity, and steric height in the global ocean from the Argo Program. Progr. Oceanogr. 82, 81–100 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Curry, B., Lee, C., Petrie, B., Moritz, R. & Kwok, R. Multiyear volume, liquid freshwater, and sea ice transports through Davis Strait, 2004–10. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 44, 1244–1266 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Carroll, D. et al. Subglacial discharge-driven renewal of tidewater glacier fjords. J. Geophys. Res. Oceans 122, 6611–6629 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Noël, B. et al. Modelling the climate and surface mass balance of polar ice sheets using RACMO2—Part 1: Greenland (1958–2016). Cryosphere 12, 811–831 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. 64.

    Howat, I., Negrete, A. & Smith, B. The Greenland Ice Mapping Project (GIMP) land classification and surface elevation data sets. Cryosphere 8, 1509–1518 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. 65.

    Ligtenberg, S., Kuipers Munneke, P., Noël, B. & van den Broeke, M. Brief communication: Improved simulation of the present-day Greenland firn layer (1960–2016). Cryosphere 12, 1643–1649 (2018).

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge support from the following sources. A.K.: NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences Program; and the Oceans Melting Greenland mission. I.G.F., I.F., O.W. and H.Z.: NASA’s Physical Oceanography; Cryospheric Sciences; and Modeling, Analysis and Prediction programmes. C.M.L.: NSF grant ARC-1022472 and NASA’s Physical Oceanography programme. H.S.: NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences; and Modeling, Analysis and Prediction programmes; and JPL’s Research and Technology Development programme. M.R.v.d.B. and B.P.Y.N.: the Netherlands Earth System Science Centre. The authors thank JPL’s UAVSAR group for ongoing support for the processing and use of the GLISTIN-A data. The authors thank J. Gobat, A. Huxtable, B. Jokinen and E. Boget (APL-UW) and the captains and crews of R/V Knorr and R/V Atlantis for their efforts in supporting the Davis Strait array. The authors thank the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Nuuk Greenland, for collection of hydrographic data in Disko Bay prior to 2015 as part of its Standard Hydrographic Coastal Monitoring Program. This work was performed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

A.K. conceived the study, analysed parts of the data, especially glacier altimetry, prepared some of the figures and wrote most of the paper. I.G.F. analysed parts of the data, especially the oceanography and ECCO ocean state estimates, prepared some of the figures and wrote parts of the paper. D.C. conducted the plume modelling and assisted with some of the figures. A.G. analysed the velocity data and provided the Landsat imagery for front detection. C.M.L. provided Davis Strait mooring data. I.F., O.W. and H.Z. assisted with the production of ECCO ocean state estimates. H.S. advised on glacier dynamics and ice–ocean interactions. D.M. assisted with GLISTIN data calibration and validation. B.P.Y.N. and M.R.v.d.B. contributed the RACMO2.3p2 subglacial discharge data. S.D. coordinated planning and data collection for OMG. J.W. assisted with analysing parts of the oceanography data, assisted with the writing and prepared some of the figures.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ala Khazendar.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures and Tables

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Khazendar, A., Fenty, I.G., Carroll, D. et al. Interruption of two decades of Jakobshavn Isbrae acceleration and thinning as regional ocean cools. Nat. Geosci. 12, 277–283 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0329-3

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing