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Bedrock Uplift from Greenland’s Peripheral Glaciers

Posted by William Colgan on January 16, 2024
Climate Change, Communicating Science, New Research / No Comments

We have a new article in the current issue of Geophysical Research Letters that looks at the influence of Greenland’s peripheral glaciers on vertical bedrock motion. Greenland’s bedrock is currently uplifting, due to both slow mantle-deformation processes associated with ice loss at the end of the Last Glacial Period, and fast elastic processes associated with ice loss today. The vertical bedrock uplift being measured in Greenland today ranges from a couple millimeters to a couple centimeters across the country. Understanding the magnitude and spatial distribution of this uplift helps us understand not only recent ice loss, but also properties of the Earth’s mantle beneath Greenland.

Figure 1 – Time series of the observed vertical land motion (VLM) at Mestersvig (MSVG) station in East Greenland. The elastic rebound associated with the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS), Greenland Peripheral Glaciers (GrPG) and Canadian Peripheral Glaciers (CanPG) are calculated. The post-Last Glacial Period glacioisostatic adjustment (U_GIA) is then calculated as a residual.

When folks create maps of Greenland’s present-day uplift rate, they typically use a model of changing ice-sheet geometry through time, to incorporate the effect of changing ice load on the Earth’s crust. This captures the main signal, but it ignores the cumulative effect of Greenland’s thousands of peripheral glaciers. These glaciers, which surround the ice sheet, also effect vertical bedrock motion. In this study, we also incorporate the effect of changing peripheral glacier geometry through time into uplift rates calculated at all the GNET bedrock motion sites around Greenland. In the figure above, you can see the vertical land motion budget of MSVG (Mestersvig) GNET station, which calculates post-Last Glacial Period glacioisostatic adjustment (GIA) as the residual of present-day elastic rebound.

Figure 2 – Comparison between post-Last Glacial Period glacioisostatic adjustment (GIA) that we calculate across the 58 GNET stations, compared to four widely used maps of Greenland GIA. A mismatch between the station color and the map color highlights a discrepancy between the previously calculated GIA and the GIA calculated in this study. These four previous studies used different methods, but all ignored the elastic rebound associated with peripheral glaciers.

We find that peripheral glaciers can have a disproportionately large impact on the elastic rebound of GNET sites, especially when they are located relatively far from the ice sheet. In some regions, especially in Greenland’s north and northeast, peripheral glaciers can contribute to over 20% of the total elastic response of regional GNET sites. Simply put, mapping Greenland’s present-day uplift rate with models that only incorporate the ice sheet, and not peripheral glaciers, can really underestimate the elastic rebound associated with present-day ice loss. Under estimating present-day elastic rebound can result in subsequently over estimating the post-Last Glacial Period glacioisostatic adjustment that is used to infer mantle properties.

So, perhaps the main message of this study is that although Greenland’s peripheral glaciers are quite small in comparison to the ice sheet, their recent collective ice loss can influence our understanding of Greenland’s vertical land motion in a disproportionately large way!

Open-Access Study: Berg, D., Barletta, V. R., Hassan, J., Lippert, E. Y. H., Colgan, W., Bevis, M., et al. (2024). Vertical land motion due to present-day ice loss from Greenland’s and Canada’s peripheral glaciers. Geophysical Research Letters, 51, e2023GL104851. https://doi.org/10.1029/2023GL104851

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Greenland Bedrock Uplift and Iceberg Discharge

Posted by William Colgan on August 22, 2021
New Research / No Comments

We have a new open-access study linking bedrock uplift and iceberg discharge at three major Greenland outlet glaciers in the last issue of Geophysical Research Letters. We look at recent changes in observed uplift rates and ice discharges at Jakobshavn, Kangerlussuaq and Helheim Glaciers. The idea of the study was to explore what we thought was a rather straightforward relation between uplift and discharge – uplift rates are relatively high when discharge rates are relatively high (and vice versa) – and see if there as any predictive power in this relation.  

The uplift rates are observed at GNet GPS stations and the ice discharges are observed by satellite-derived ice velocity combined with knowledge of ice thickness. When we analyzed these records, we found that the uplift-discharge relation is indeed very statistically strong, but – rather counterintuitively – at two of the glaciers it was bedrock uplift that serves as a good predictor for ice discharge. Simply put, rather than changes in bedrock uplift lagging changes in ice discharge, we instead found that changes in ice discharge lag changes in bedrock uplift. Clearly, surface mass balance is the primary and instantaneous driver of elastic bedrock uplift; bedrock uplift increases immediately after a big melt and runoff event. We are effectively showing that the associated ice discharge response is lagged.

Figure 1 (a) Predicted detrended dynamic ice loss from past GNet GPS data at Jakobshavn Glacier (blue curve) and satellite-observed ice discharge (black curve). (c) Same as (a) but for Helheim Glacier. (d) Cumulative dynamic records instead of detrended records. (f) Same as (d) but for Helheim Glacier. Note the differing offsets between records at Jakobshavn and Helheim Glaciers.

At Jakobshavn Glacier, changes in ice discharge appear to lag changes in bedrock uplift by almost one year (0.87 years). Simply put, if there is a big melt and uplift event in August, the ice discharge response will peak the following June. If we trust this relation, recent uplift observations at Jakobshavn Glacier suggest that ice discharge will return to pre-2018 levels by the end of 2021. This would mark a clear end to a three-year period of relatively low ice discharge and ice-sheet thickening in the lower reaches of the ice stream over the 2016-2018 melt seasons. At Helheim Glacier, by contrast, there was no significant lead or lag; changes in uplift rate seem completely coincident with changes in ice discharge. Simply put, peak uplift and ice dischrage tends to be simultaneous.

Figure 2 Locations of the KAGA G-Net station at Jakobshavn Glacier (left) and the HEL2 G-Net station at Helheim Glacier. The relation between bedrock uplift and ice discharge is dependent on many local factors like geology, ice configuration, and glacier hydrology.

You can speculate that this uplift-discharge relation changes from glacier to glacier around Greenland due on local differences in bedrock geology and glacier dynamics or hydrology. Reflecting, for example, the elastic modulus of the bedrock or the reservoir time of englacial hydrology of each glacier. The sensitivity of this relation – meaning how many mm/yr uplift per Gt/yr mass loss – also varies from GPS station to GPS station based on the local ice configuration and distance of the GPS station to the center of ice loss. These relations are therefore only valid over local scales.

Overall, however, it does seem possible to use the GNet stations to develop local relations between bedrock uplift and ice discharge on a glacier-by-glacier basis all the way around Greenland. This would be very helpful for using GPS stations to reconstruct detailed records of local ice loss prior to the 2016 onset of weekly satellite monitoring of ice discharge. Exploring this uplift-discharge relation at more GNet stations may also help us understand exactly why sub-annual changes in ice discharge appear to be lagging changes in vertical bedrock motion at some glaciers. Any new clues about processes that regulate Greenland’s ice discharge into the ocean are always valuable!

Hansen, K., Truffer, M., Aschwanden, A., Mankoff, K., Bevis, M., Humbert, A., van den Broeke, M., Noel, B., Bjørk, A., Colgan, W., Kjær, K., Adhikari, S., Barletta, V., and S. Khan. (2021). Estimating ice discharge at Greenland’s three largest outlet glaciers using local bedrock uplift. Geophysical Research Letters, 48, e2021GL094252. https://doi.org/10.1029/2021GL094252

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