Seasonal variations in Greenland Ice Sheet motion: Inland extent and behaviour at higher elevations

I. D. Bartholomew*, P. Nienow, A. Sole, D. Mair, T. Cowton, M. A. King, S. Palmer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Citations (Scopus)


We present global positioning system observations that capture the full inland extent of ice motion variations in 2009 along a transect in the west Greenland Ice sheet margin. In situ measurements of air temperature and surface ablation, and satellite monitoring of ice surface albedo and supraglacial lake drainage are used to investigate hydrological controls on ice velocity changes. We find a strong positive correlation between rates of annual ablation and changes in annual ice motion along the transect, with sites nearest the ice sheet margin experiencing greater annual variations in ice motion (15-18%) than those above 1000. m elevation (3-8%). Patterns in the timing and rate of meltwater delivery to the ice-bed interface provide key controls on the magnitude of hydrologically-forced velocity variations at each site. In the lower ablation zone, the overall contribution of variations in ice motion to annual flow rates is limited by evolution in the structure of the subglacial drainage system. At sites in the upper ablation zone, a shorter period of summer melting and delayed establishment of a hydraulic connection between the ice sheet surface and its bed limit the timeframe for velocity variations to occur. Our data suggest that land-terminating sections of the Greenland Ice Sheet will experience increased dynamic mass loss in a warmer climate, as the behaviour that we observe in the lower ablation zone propagates further inland. Findings from this study provide a conceptual framework to understand the impact of hydrologically-forced velocity variations on the future mass balance of land-terminating sections of the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-278
Number of pages8
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2011


  • GPS
  • Greenland
  • Ice dynamics
  • Subglacial hydrology
  • Supraglacial lakes


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