The sudden acceleration in 1997 of Jakobshavn Isbr?, one of Greenland’s largest outlet glaciers, was caused by subsurface ocean warming, according to research published online in Nature Geoscience. The study suggests that ocean temperatures may be more important for glacier flow than previously thought. The prediction of future rapid dynamic responses of other outlet glaciers to climate change may therefore require detailed knowledge of regional ocean dynamics.
David Holland and colleagues present hydrographic data that show a sudden increase in subsurface ocean temperature in 1997 along the entire west coast of Greenland. The arrival of relatively warm water that originated from the Irminger Sea near Iceland could therefore have triggered the increase in the glacier speed. The authors trace these oceanic changes back to changes in the atmospheric circulation in the North Atlantic region.