Seasonal evolution of subglacial drainage and acceleration in a Greenland outlet glacier

Ian Bartholomew, Peter Nienow, Douglas Mair, Alun Hubbard, Matt A. King, Andrew Sole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

292 Citations (Scopus)


The Greenland ice sheet contains enough water to raise sea levels by 7¿m. However, its present mass balance and future contribution to sea level rise is poorly understood1. Accelerated mass loss has been observed near the ice sheet margin, partly as a result of faster ice motion2, 3, 4. Surface melt waters can reach the base of the ice sheet and enhance basal ice motion5, 6. However, the response of ice motion to seasonal variations in meltwater supply is poorly constrained both in space and time. Here we present ice motion data obtained with global positioning system receivers located along a ~35¿km transect at the western margin of the Greenland ice sheet throughout a summer melt season. Our measurements reveal substantial increases in ice velocity during summer, up to 220% above winter background values. These speed-up events migrate up the glacier over the course of the summer. The relationship between melt and ice motion varies both at each site throughout the melt season and between sites. We suggest that these patterns can be explained by the seasonal evolution of the subglacial drainage system similar to hydraulic forcing mechanisms for ice dynamics that have been observed at smaller glaciers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)408-411
Number of pages4
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number6
Early online date9 May 2010
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2010


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