Research ArticleGEOPHYSICS

Ocean forcing drives glacier retreat in Greenland

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Science Advances  01 Jan 2021:
Vol. 7, no. 1, eaba7282
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba7282


The retreat and acceleration of Greenland glaciers since the mid-1990s have been attributed to the enhanced intrusion of warm Atlantic Waters (AW) into fjords, but this assertion has not been quantitatively tested on a Greenland-wide basis or included in models. Here, we investigate how AW influenced retreat at 226 marine-terminating glaciers using ocean modeling, remote sensing, and in situ observations. We identify 74 glaciers in deep fjords with AW controlling 49% of the mass loss that retreated when warming increased undercutting by 48%. Conversely, 27 glaciers calving on shallow ridges and 24 in cold, shallow waters retreated little, contributing 15% of the loss, while 10 glaciers retreated substantially following the collapse of several ice shelves. The retreat mechanisms remain undiagnosed at 87 glaciers without ocean and bathymetry data, which controlled 19% of the loss. Ice sheet projections that exclude ocean-induced undercutting may underestimate mass loss by at least a factor of 2.

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