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Englacial latent-heat transfer has limited influence on seaward ice flux in western Greenland


Surface meltwater can refreeze within firn layers and crevasses to warm ice through latent-heat transfer on decadal to millennial timescales. Earlier work posited that the consequent softening of the ice might accelerate ice flow, potentially increasing ice-sheet mass loss. Here, we calculate the effect of meltwater refreezing on ice temperature and softness in the Pâkitsoq (near Swiss Camp) and Jakobshavn Isbræ regions of western Greenland using a numeric model and existing borehole measurements. We show that in the Jakobshavn catchment, meltwater percolation within the firn warms the ice at depth by 3–5°C. By contrast, meltwater refreezing in crevasses (cryo-hydrologic warming) at depths of ~300 m warms the ice in Pâkitsoq by up to 10°C, but this causes minimal increase in ice motion (<10 m a−1). Pâkitsoq is representative of western Greenland's land-terminating ice, where the slow movement of ice through a wide ablation zone provides ideal conditions for cryo-hydrologic warming to occur. We find that only ~37% of the western Greenland ice flux, however, travels through such areas. Overall, our findings suggest that cryo-hydrologic warming will likely have only a limited effect on the dynamic evolution of the Greenland ice sheet.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the same Creative Commons licence is included and the original work is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use.
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Correspondence: Kristin Poinar <>
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