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The Cryosphere An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2019-264
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2019-264
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 15 Jan 2020

Submitted as: research article | 15 Jan 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Surface emergence of glacial plumes determined by fjord stratification

Eva De Andrés1, Donald A. Slater2, Fiamma Straneo2, Jaime Otero1, Sarah Das3, and Francisco Navarro1 Eva De Andrés et al.
  • 1Departmentof Applied Mathematics, ETSI de Telecomunicación, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
  • 2Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
  • 3Department of Geology and Geophysics, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, USA

Abstract. Meltwater and sediment-laden plumes at tidewater glaciers, resulting from the localized subglacial discharge of surface melt, influence submarine melting of the glacier and the delivery of nutrients to the fjord's surface waters. It is usually assumed that increased subglacial discharge will promote the surfacing of these plumes. Here, at a west Greenland tidewater glacier, we investigate the counterintuitive observation of a non-surfacing plume in July 2012 (a year of record surface melting) compared to the surfacing of the plume in July 2013 (an average melt year). We combine oceanographic observations, subglacial discharge estimates and an idealized plume model to explain the observed plumes’ behavior and evaluate the relative impact of fjord stratification and subglacial discharge on plume dynamics. We find that increased fjord stratification prevented the plume from surfacing in 2012, show that the fjord was more stratified in 2012 due to increased freshwater content, and speculate that this arose from an accumulation of ice sheet surface meltwater in the fjord in this record melt year. By developing theoretical scalings, we show in general that fjord stratification exerts a dominant control on plume vertical extent (and thus surface expression), so that studies using plume surface expression as a means of diagnosing variability in glacial processes should account for possible changes in stratification. We introduce the idea that despite projections of increased surface melting over Greenland, the appearance of plumes at the fjord surface could in the future become less common if the increased freshwater acts to stratify fjords around the ice sheet. We discuss the implications of our findings for nutrient fluxes, trapping of atmospheric CO2 and the properties of water exported from Greenland’s fjords.

Eva De Andrés et al.

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Status: open (until 12 Mar 2020)
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Eva De Andrés et al.

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Short summary
Buoyant plumes at tidewater glaciers result from localized subglacial discharges of surface melt. They promote glacier submarine melting and influence the delivery of nutrients to the fjord's surface waters. Combining plume theory with observations, we have found that increased fjord stratification, which is due to larger meltwater content, prevents the vertical growth of the plume and buffers submarine melting. We discuss the implications for nutrient fluxes, CO2 trapping and water export.
Buoyant plumes at tidewater glaciers result from localized subglacial discharges of surface...
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