Terminal environment, topographic control and fluctuations of West Greenland glaciers


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Glaciers are commonly regarded as sensitive indicators of climatic change, but iceberg calving can partially decouple glacier oscillations from climatic forcing. Recent fluctuations (1942–85) of 72 West Greenland outlet glaciers were studied using aerial photographs, and nine of them examined in the field. Despite similar climatic forcing, variable glacier behaviour is apparent. Eighty‐four percent of the land terminating glaciers have been retreating or stable during the period, whereas more than half the tidewater and lake terminating glaciers have been advancing. The calving glaciers exhibit much greater variability in frontal behaviour. Patterns of change suggest that the land‐terminating glaciers are controlled dominantly by variations in summer temperature, but that calving dynamics have caused the tidewater and lake‐calving glaciers to respond to climatic change in non‐linear ways. Dynamic and response contrasts are apparent between freshwater and tidewater glaciers. Trough geometry is of great significance in controlling the nature and magnitude of frontal change of calving glaciers; in particular, topographic ‘pinning points’ represent potentially stable locations within the fjord at which stillstands almost invariably occur, irrespective of climatic change or regional trends.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1991


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