The effect of warming climate on nutrient and solute export from the Greenland Ice Sheet

J. R. Hawkings, J. L. Wadham, M. Tranter, E. Lawson, A. Sole, T. Cowton, A. Tedstone, I. Bartholomew, P. Nienow, D. Chandler, J. Telling

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78 Citations (Scopus)


Glacial meltwater runoff is likely an important source of limiting nutrients for downstream primary producers. This has particular significance for regions surrounding the Greenland Ice Sheet, which discharges >400 km3 of meltwater annually. The Arctic is warming rapidly but the impact of higher discharge on nutrient export is unknown. We present four years of hydrological and geochemical data from a large Greenland Ice Sheet catchment that includes the two highest melt years on record (2010, 2012). Measurements reveal significant variation in dissolved solute (major ion) and estimated dissolved macronutrient (nitrogen, phosphorus and silica) fluxes, with increases in higher melt years. Labile particulate macronutrients dominate nutrient export, accounting for ~50 % of nitrogen and >80 % of both phosphorus and silica. The response of ice sheet nutrient export to enhanced melting is largely controlled by particle bound nutrients, the future supply of which is uncertain. We propose that the Greenland Ice Sheet provides an underappreciated and annually dynamic source of nutrients for the polar oceans, with changes in meltwater discharge likely to impact marine primary productivity in future decades.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-104
Number of pages11
JournalGeochemical Perspectives Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2015


  • Glaciers
  • Greenland Ice Sheet
  • Chemical weathering
  • Nutrient export
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Silica
  • Phosphorus
  • Nitrogen
  • Climate change


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