Subglacial hydrology at Rink Isbræ, West Greenland inferred from sediment plume appearance

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Annals of Glaciology


Department of Earth Sciences


Marine-terminating outlet glaciers discharge most of the Greenland ice sheet’s mass through frontal ablation and meltwater runoff. While calving can be estimated by in situ and remote sensing observations, submarine melting and subglacial meltwater transport are more challenging to quantify. Here we investigate the subglacial hydrology of Rink Isbræ, a fast-flowing West Greenland tidewater glacier, using time-lapse photography, modeled runoff estimates and daily satellite imagery from 2007 to 2011. We find that sediment plumes appear episodically at four distinct locations across the terminus, and last between 2 h and 17 d. This suggests short-term variability in discharge and the existence of persistent pathways. The seasonal onset of sediment plumes occurs before supraglacial lake drainages, shortly after the onset of runoff, and only after the wintertime ice mélange has begun disintegrating. Plumes were also visible after the cessation of runoff (23 ± 5 d), which is indicative of subglacial storage. The lack of either a seasonal velocity change or a correspondence between meltwater availability and plume occurrence sug- gests that the subglacial system persists in a state of inefficient drainage. Subglacial hydrology at tidewater glaciers is of critical importance in understanding dynamics at the ice front.