Hydrological controls on Greenland Ice Sheet motion
Tedstone, Andrew Jachnik
An improved understanding of the processes controlling the dynamics of the Greenland Ice Sheet is needed to enable more accurate determination of the response of the ice sheet to projected climate change. Meltwater produced on the ice sheet surface can penetrate to the bed and cause ice motion to speed up through enhanced basal sliding. However, the importance of coupled hydro-dynamics both to current ice sheet motion and future stability over the coming century is unclear. This thesis presents observations from the south-west Greenland Ice Sheet which improve our understanding of coupled hydro-dynamics. It commences with an investigation of the response of ice motion to exceptional meltwater forcing during summer 2012. Simultaneous field observations of ice motion (by GPS) and proglacial discharge show that, despite two extreme melt events during July 2012 and summer ice sheet runoff 3.9 s.d. above the 1958– 2011 mean which resulted in faster summer motion, net annual motion was slower than in the average melt year of 2009. This suggests that surface melt-induced acceleration of land-terminating regions of the ice sheet will remain insignificant even under extreme melting scenarios. The thesis then examines spatial variability in ice motion, in relation to an inferred subglacial drainage axis, using GPS and satellite radar observations from a land-terminating margin up to 20 km inland where ice is 800 m thick. Whilst spatial variability in subglacial drainage system configuration is found to control ice motion at short timescales, the proportional contribution of summer motion to annual motion is almost invariant. The structure of the subglacial drainage system does not therefore appear to significantly influence spatial variations in net summer speedup. Lastly, observations are made by applying feature tracking to 30 years of optical satellite imagery in a ~170 by 50 km area along the ice sheet margin (where ice reaches ~850 m thick) to examine whether coupled hydrology-dynamics affects inter-annual ice motion. Hydro-dynamic coupling resulted in net ice motion slowdown during a period of clear climate warming. Further increases in meltwater production may therefore reduce ice sheet motion. The thesis concludes that at land-terminating margins of the Greenland Ice Sheet, (1) larger annual meltwater volumes do not result in faster annual ice motion; (2) the detailed structure of the subglacial drainage network appears unimportant to the role of summer motion in determining annual motion; and (3) atmospheric warming over several decades has been accompanied by a slowdown in ice motion. As such, hydro-dynamic coupling is unlikely to form a significant positive feedback between surface melting and ice motion in response to projected climate warming. The wider relevance of these findings to tidewater systems requires further investigation.