17 May 2023
 | 17 May 2023

Local forcing mechanisms challenge parameterizations of ocean thermal forcing for Greenland tidewater glaciers

Alexander O. Hager, David A. Sutherland, and Donald A. Slater

Abstract. Frontal ablation has caused 32–66 % of Greenland Ice Sheet mass loss since 1972, and despite its importance in driving terminus change, ocean thermal forcing remains crudely incorporated into large-scale ice sheet models. In Greenland, local fjord-scale processes modify the magnitude of thermal forcing at the ice-ocean boundary but are too small scale to be resolved in current global climate models. For example, simulations used in the Ice Sheet Intercomparison Project for CMIP6 (ISMIP6) to predict future ice sheet change rely on the extrapolation of regional ocean water properties into fjords to drive terminus ablation. However, the accuracy of this approach has not previously been tested due to the scarcity of observations in Greenland fjords, as well as the inability of fjord-scale models to realistically incorporate icebergs. By employing the recently developed IceBerg package within the MITgcm, we here evaluate the ability of ocean thermal forcing parameterizations to predict thermal forcing at tidewater glacier termini. This is accomplished through sensitivity experiments using a set of idealized Greenland fjords each forced with equivalent ocean boundary conditions, but with varying tidal amplitudes, subglacial discharge, iceberg coverage, and bathymetry. Our results indicate that the bathymetric obstruction of external water is the primary control on near-glacier thermal forcing, followed by iceberg submarine melting. We find that grounding line thermal forcing varies by 2.9 °C across all simulations and is heavily dependent on the depth of bathymetric sills in relation to the Polar-Atlantic Water thermocline. However, using a common adjustment for fjord bathymetry we can still predict grounding line thermal forcing within 0.2 °C in our simulations. Finally, we introduce new parameterizations that account for iceberg-driven cooling that can accurately predict interior fjord thermal forcing profiles both in iceberg-laden simulations and in observations from Ilulissat Icefjord.

Alexander O. Hager et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-746', Michele Petrini, 09 Jun 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-746', Anonymous Referee #2, 30 Jun 2023

Alexander O. Hager et al.

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Local forcing mechanisms challenge parameterizations of ocean thermal forcing for Greenland tidewater glaciers Alexander O. Hager, David A. Sutherland, and Donald A. Slater

Alexander O. Hager et al.


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Short summary
Warming ocean temperatures cause considerable ice loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet; however climate models are unable to resolve the complex ocean processes within fjords that influence near-glacier ocean temperatures. Here, we use a computer model to test the accuracy of assumptions that allow climate and ice sheet models to project near-glacier ocean temperatures, and thus glacier melt, into the future. We then develop new methods that improve accuracy by accounting for local ocean processes.