Satellite-derived submarine melt rates and mass balance (2011–2015) for Greenland's largest remaining ice tongues
Abstract. Ice-shelf-like floating extensions at the termini of Greenland glaciers are undergoing rapid changes with potential implications for the stability of upstream glaciers and the ice sheet as a whole. While submarine melting is recognized as a major contributor to mass loss, the spatial distribution of submarine melting and its contribution to the total mass balance of these floating extensions is incompletely known and understood. Here, we use high-resolution WorldView satellite imagery collected between 2011 and 2015 to infer the magnitude and spatial variability of melt rates under Greenland's largest remaining ice tongues – Nioghalvfjerdsbræ (79 North Glacier, 79N), Ryder Glacier (RG), and Petermann Glacier (PG). Submarine melt rates under the ice tongues vary considerably, exceeding 50 m a−1 near the grounding zone and decaying rapidly downstream. Channels, likely originating from upstream subglacial channels, give rise to large melt variations across the ice tongues. We compare the total melt rates to the influx of ice to the ice tongue to assess their contribution to the current mass balance. At Petermann Glacier and Ryder Glacier, we find that the combined submarine and aerial melt approximately balances the ice flux from the grounded ice sheet. At Nioghalvfjerdsbræ the total melt flux (14.2 ± 0.96 km3 a−1 w.e., water equivalent) exceeds the inflow of ice (10.2 ± 0.59 km3 a−1 w.e.), indicating present thinning of the ice tongue.