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Contribution to the glaciology of northern Greenland from satellite radar interferometry


Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) data from the ERS-1 and ERS-2 satellites are used to measure the surface velocity, topography, and grounding line position of the major outlet glaciers in the northern sector of the Greenland ice sheet. The mass output of the glaciers at and above the grounding line is determined and compared with the mass input. We find that the grounding line output is approximately in balance with the input, except for the three largest glaciers for which the mass loss is 4±3 km3 ice year-1 or 11±8% of the mass input. Along the coast we detect a systematic retreat of the grounding lines between 1992 and 1996 with InSAR, which implies that the outlet glaciers are thinning. The inferred coastal thinning is too large to be explained by a few warm summers. Glacier thinning must be of dynamic origin, that is, caused by spatial and temporal changes in ice velocity. Iceberg production from the glaciers is uncharacteristically low. It accounts for only 8% of the ice discharge to the ocean. About 55% of the ice is lost through basal melting (5-8 m ice year-1 on average) from the underside of the floating glacier tongues that are in contact with warm ocean waters. Mass losses are highest in the first 10 km of floating ice, where ice reaches the greatest depths and basal melting is 3 times larger than on average. Only a small increase in basal melting would suffice to disintegrate the floating glacier tongues. Copyright 2001 by the American Geophysical Union.

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