Dynamic changes at tidewater glacier termini in central west Greenland
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The Greenland Ice Sheet rapidly lost mass over the last two decades, in part due to increases in ice loss from termini of large tidewater glaciers. Terminus melting and calving can drive glacier retreat and the pattern of ice sheet mass loss through reductions in resistive stresses near the glacier front and, in turn, increases in ice flow to the ocean. Despite their importance to ice sheet mass balance, factors controlling terminus positions are poorly constrained in ice sheet models, which fundamentally obscures sea level rise predictions. In this dissertation, I use a suite of novel observations and techniques to quantify controls on frontal ablation and terminus positions at tidewater glaciers in central west Greenland. Until recently, frontal ablation processes were obscured due to limited observations of submarine termini. Here, I use observations from multibeam echo sonar to show the morphological complexity of the submarine terminus face and identify previously unrecognized melting and calving processes. The terminus features numerous secondary subglacial plume outlets outside of the main subglacial channel system that drive and disperse large submarine melt rates across the glacier front. Submarine melting drives steep, localized terminus undercutting that can trigger calving by connecting to finely-spaced surface crevasses. In turn, large calving events cause the terminus face to become anomalously overcut. Incorporating observed outlet geometries in a numerical plume model, I estimate small subglacial discharge fluxes feeding secondary plume outlets that are reminiscent of a distributed subglacial network. Regional remote-sensing observations reveal that, for most glaciers in central west Greenland, seasonal terminus positions are more sensitive to glacial runoff than ice mélange or ocean thermal forcing. Shallow, serac-failing tidewater glaciers are most sensitive, where subglacial plumes melt the terminus and locally enhance retreat. Glaciers with large ice fluxes and deep termini retreat sporadically through full ice-thickness calving events less dependent on runoff. Together, these results provide process-oriented constraints on the shape of the submarine terminus face, the geometry of subglacial discharge and submarine melting, the influence of environmental forcing mechanisms and the impact that these variables have on terminus positions and dynamics in a warming climate.