Subtropical Water Melting Greenland Glaciers from Within

greenland glacier melting photo

Image credit: Dave Sutherland/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The glaciers of Greenland have been melting at an accelerating rate. Thus far, research has attributed much of the melting to warmer air currents and reduced winter freezing. But another mechanism—warm ocean currents—has been identified as a driver for glacial melting.A team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute found that warm, sub-tropical, waters work their way into some glacial fjords.

ocean currents map photo

Image credit: Jack Cook/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Fiamma Straneo, who led the research team, commented that:

This is the first time we've seen waters this warm in any of the fjords in Greenland...the subtropical waters are flowing through the fjord very quickly, so they can transport heat and drive melting at the end of the glacier.

Researchers found water as warm as 39 degrees Fahrenheit beneath the Sermilik Fjord glacier. The water beneath the glacier—which is about 62 miles long and connects the Helheim Glacier with the Irminger Sea—warmed from July to December, but sub-tropical currents were present year round.

Watch: Nature Inc. Shorts: Melting Away (Video)

Straneo explained:

This is the first extensive survey of one of these fjords that shows us how these warm waters circulate and how vigorous the circulation is...changes in the large-scale ocean circulation of the North Atlantic are propagating to the glaciers very quickly—not in a matter of years, but a matter of months. It's a very rapid communication.

She pointed out that melting from the Greenland ice sheet has, and will continue, to contribute to sea level rises around the world. More research, however, is needed before the exact relationship between glacial melting and warmer currents is understood.

Read more about Greenland:
Satellite Images Reveal Two of Greenland's Biggest Glaciers Are Losing More Ice
Greenland Glacier About to Lose Manhattan-sized Ice Chunk (Video)
As its Glaciers Melt, Greenland on Track to Emit 10 Million Tons of CO2 a Year
Watch Greenland Melting - on the Icecam
Dramatic Ice Loss May Get the Headlines, But 72% of Greenland's Ice Melt Comes From Small Glaciers Researchers Say
Global Warming Beer: Greenland Brews with Melting Ice Cap

Related Content on