Articles | Volume 5, issue 3
The Cryosphere, 5, 701–714, 2011
The Cryosphere, 5, 701–714, 2011

Research article 09 Sep 2011

Research article | 09 Sep 2011

Warming of waters in an East Greenland fjord prior to glacier retreat: mechanisms and connection to large-scale atmospheric conditions

P. Christoffersen1, R. I. Mugford1,2, K. J. Heywood3, I. Joughin4, J. A. Dowdeswell1, J. P. M. Syvitski5, A. Luckman6, and T. J. Benham1 P. Christoffersen et al.
  • 1Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  • 2Environmental Systems Science Centre, University of Reading, Reading, UK
  • 3School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
  • 4Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, USA
  • 5Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA
  • 6School of the Environment and Society, Swansea University, Swansea, UK

Abstract. Hydrographic data acquired in Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord and adjacent seas in 1993 and 2004 are used together with reanalysis from the NEMO ocean modelling framework to elucidate water-mass change and ice-ocean-atmosphere interactions in East Greenland. The hydrographic data show that the fjord contains warm subtropical waters and that fjord waters in 2004 were considerably warmer than in 1993. The ocean reanalysis shows that the warm properties of fjord waters in 2004 are related to a major peak in oceanic shoreward heat flux into a cross-shelf trough on the outer continental shelf. The heat flux into this trough varies according to seasonal exchanges with the atmosphere as well as from deep seasonal intrusions of subtropical waters. Both mechanisms contribute to high (low) shoreward heat flux when winds from the northeast are weak (strong). The combined effect of surface heating and inflow of subtropical waters is seen in the hydrographic data, which were collected after periods when along-shore coastal winds from the north were strong (1993) and weak (2004). The latter data were furthermore acquired during the early phase of a prolonged retreat of Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier. We show that coastal winds vary according to the pressure gradient defined by a semi-permanent atmospheric high-pressure system over Greenland and a persistent atmospheric low situated near Iceland. The magnitude of this pressure gradient is controlled by longitudinal variability in the position of the Icelandic Low.