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Ice velocity changes on Penny Ice Cap, Baffin Island, since the 1950s



Predicting the velocity response of glaciers to increased surface melt is a major topic of ongoing research with significant implications for accurate sea-level rise forecasting. In this study we use optical and radar satellite imagery as well as comparisons with historical ground measurements to produce a multi-decadal record of ice velocity variations on Penny Ice Cap, Baffin Island. Over the period 1985–2011, the six largest outlet glaciers on the ice cap decelerated by an average rate of 21 m a−1 over the 26 year period (0.81 m a−2), or 12% per decade. The change was not monotonic, however, as most glaciers accelerated until the 1990s, then decelerated. A comparison of recent imagery with historical velocity measurements on Highway Glacier, on the southern part of Penny Ice Cap, shows that this glacier decelerated by 71% between 1953 and 2009–11, from 57 to 17 m a−1. The recent slowdown of outlet glaciers has coincided with increases in mass loss, terminus retreat and an inferred reduction in basal sliding. Measured decelerations are greater than the total short-term variability measured from both seasonal and interannual fluctuations, and support the hypothesis that glacier thinning and/or increased meltwater production promotes a long-term reduction in ice motion.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Correspondence: Nicole Schaffer <>


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