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Multi-decadal retreat of Greenland’s marine-terminating glaciers

  • Ian M. Howat (a1) (a2) and Alex Eddy (a1) (a2)
Abstract

Many marine-terminating glaciers draining the Greenland ice sheet have retreated over the past decade, yet the extent and magnitude of retreat relative to past variability is unknown. We measure changes in front positions of 210 marine-terminating glaciers using Landsat imagery spanning nearly four decades and compare decadal-scale rates of change with earlier observations. We find that 90% of the observed glaciers retreated between 2000 and 2010, approaching 100% in the northwest, with rapid retreat observed in all sectors of the ice sheet. The current retreat is accelerating and likely began between 1992 and 2000, coincident with the onset of warming, following glacier stability and minor advance during a mid-century cooling period. While it is clear an extensive retreat occurred in the early 20th century, a period of increasing air temperatures, a comparison of our results with historical observations provides evidence that the current retreat is more widespread. The onset of rapid retreat with warming relative to the slow and lagged advance with cooling suggests an asymmetry in the response of marine fronts to external forcing.

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References
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Journal of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0022-1430
  • EISSN: 1727-5652
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-glaciology
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