Dynamics of Greenland’s glacial fjords

Thumbnail Image
Jackson, Rebecca H.
Linked Authors
As Published
Date Created
Replaced By
Glacial fjords form conduits between glaciers of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the North Atlantic. They are the gateways for importing oceanic heat to melt ice and for exporting meltwater into the ocean. Submarine melting in fjords has been implicated as a driver of recent glacier acceleration; however, there are no direct measurements of this melting, and little is known about the fjord processes that modulate melt rates. Combining observations, theory, and modeling, this thesis investigates the circulation, heat transport, and meltwater export in glacial fjords. While most recent studies focus on glacial buoyancy forcing, there are other drivers – e.g. tides, local wind, shelf variability – that can be important for fjord circulation. Using moored records from two major Greenlandic fjords, shelf forcing (from shelf density fluctuations) is found to dominate the fjord circulation, driving rapid exchange with the shelf and large heat content variability near the glacier. Contrary to the conventional paradigm, these flows mask any glacier-driven circulation in the non-summer months. During the summer, when shelf forcing is reduced and freshwater forcing peaks, a mean exchange flow transports warm Atlantic-origin water towards the glacier and exports glacial meltwater. Many recent studies have inferred submarine melt rates from oceanic heat transport, but the fjord budgets that underlie this method have been overlooked. Building on estuarine studies of salt fluxes, this thesis presents a new framework for assessing glacial fjord budgets and revised equations for inferring meltwater fluxes. Two different seasonal regimes are found in the heat/salt budgets for Sermilik Fjord, and the results provide the first time-series of submarine meltwater and subglacial discharge fluxes into a glacial fjord. Finally, building on the observations, ROMS numerical simulations and two analytical models are used to investigate the dynamics of shelf-driven flows and their importance relative to local wind forcing across the parameter space of Greenland’s fjords. The fjord response is found to vary primarily with the width relative to the deformation radius and the fjord adjustment timescale relative to the forcing timescale. Understanding these modes of circulation is a step towards accurate modeling of ocean-glacier interactions.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution June 2016
Embargo Date
Cruise ID
Cruise DOI
Vessel Name