1Department of Geography and Earth Science, Aberystwyth University, UK
2Laboratoroire d'Océanographie et du Climat, Expérimentation et approche Numérique, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France
3Byrd Polar Research Center, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA
4Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Copenhagen, Denmark
5School of Geography and Geosciences, St-Andrews University, UK
6Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, CA, USA
7Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, UK
Abstract. Warm sub-polar mode water (SPMW) has been identified as a primary driver of mass loss of marine terminating glaciers draining the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) yet, the specific mechanisms by which SPMW interacts with these tidewater termini remain uncertain. We present oceanographic data from Rink Glacier (RG) and Store Glacier (SG) fjords, two major marine outlets draining the western sector of the GrIS into Baffin Bay over the contrasting melt-seasons of 2009 and 2010. Submarine melting occurs wherever ice is in direct contact with warmer water and the consistent presence of 2.8 °C SPMW adjacent to both ice fronts below 400 m throughout all surveys indicates that melting is maintained by a combination of molecular diffusion and large scale, weak convection, diffusional (hereafter called ubiquitous) melting. At shallower depths (50–200 m), cold, brine-enriched water (BEW) formed over winter appears to persist into the summer thereby buffering this melt by thermal insulation. Our surveys reveal four main modes of glacier–ocean interaction, governed by water depth and the rate of glacier runoff water (GRW) injected into the fjord. Deeper than 200 m, submarine melt is the only process observed, regardless of the intensity of GRW or the depth of injection. However, between the surface and 200 m depth, three further distinct modes are observed governed by the GRW discharge. When GRW is weak (≲1000 m3 s−1), upward motion of the water adjacent to the glacier front is subdued, weak forced or free convection plus diffusional submarine melting dominates at depth, and seaward outflow of melt water occurs from the glacier toe to the base of the insulating BEW. During medium intensity GRW (∼1500 m3 s−1), mixing with SPMW yields deep mixed runoff water (DMRW), which rises as a buoyant plume and intensifies local submarine melting (enhanced buoyancy-driven melting). In this case, DMRW typically attains hydrostatic equilibrium and flows seaward at an intermediate depth of ∼50–150 m, taking the BEW with it. Strong GRW (≳ 2000 m3 s−1) yields vigorous, buoyant DMRW, which has sufficient vertical momentum to break the sea surface before sinking and flowing seaward, thereby leaving much of the BEW largely intact. Whilst these modes of glacier–ocean interaction significantly affect the ice–ocean interaction in the upper water column (0–200 m), below 200 m both RG and SG are dominated by the weak forced convection/diffusional (herein termed ubiquitous) melting due to the presence of SPMW.