Ice-dammed lake drainage cools and raises surface salinities in a tidewater outlet glacier fjord, west Greenland

K.K. Kjeldsen, J. Mortensen, J. Bendtsen, D. Petersen, K. Lennert, S. Rysgaard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


The drainage of ice-dammed lakes in the form of outburst floods in Greenland is detected regularly by remote sensing, and these events are expected to occur more frequently in a warmer climate. However, their impact on ice sheet stability and neighboring water bodies is still unknown. In this interdisciplinary study, we investigate lake drainages from the Greenland Ice Sheet into a west Greenland fjord by analyzing simultaneous time series of satellite observations and direct hydrographic measurements of temperature and salinity in the fjord. Satellite images show that, in general, lake drainages have occurred quasiperiodically during the last decade. A particular sequence of drainage events was observed by satellite in 2009 and was analyzed together with the first direct hydrographic observations. Signs of ice-dammed lake drainages were observed by a downstream mooring located just below the intertidal zone. The release of freshwater occurred at the fjord subsurface at a tidewater outlet glacier. The downstream in-water sequence of property changes in relation to these drainage events was observed as an almost immediate decrease in surface layer temperature (~2°C) followed within a week by the arrival of a high-saline pulse (~-+5 units) with elevated salinity lasting for several days during the passage. During lake drainages, large amounts of relatively warm and saline intermediate water are brought to the near-surface layers by entrainment processes near the glacier front, and this influences the hydrography of the fjord but also impacts the ecosystem through upwelling of nutrient-rich intermediate water.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1310-1321
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • fjord
  • Greenland Ice Sheet
  • hydrographic time series
  • ice-dammed lake
  • jökulhlaup
  • tidewater outlet glacier

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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