Jakobshavn's Interrupted Thinning Explained

  • Released Monday, March 25, 2019

Jakobshavn Glacier is Greenland's largest and fastest moving glacier. Over the last 20 years, the glacier, known in Greenlandic as Sermeq Kujalleq, has retreated, sped up and thinned. The data shown here reveal that Jakobshavn’s retreat has reversed. Between 2016 and 2018, the glacier advanced and got thicker. Scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have linked these changes to cooling of the ocean waters that reach Jakobshavn after traveling around the southern tip of Greenland and reaching into Disko Bay. (See the science paper here) The ocean cooling was likely related to the natural cycles of warming and cooling that happen in the Atlantic as part of the North Atlantic Oscillation. The strong influence of the ocean on the ice loss from Jakboshavn is somewhat surprising because the role of the ocean has been unclear since the glacier’s floating extension, called an ice tongue, disintegrated in 2003. These results mean that future projections of sea level rise will also need to account for the ocean changes in order to accurately predict how fast Greenland’s ice will melt in a warming climate.

This visualization shows a variety of data from the oceans and ice to help explain why Jakobshavn glacier grew thicker and advanced between 2016 and 2017. Initially, the average flow of ice across the Greenland Ice Sheet in these years is shown as colored flow arrows, with blue shades indicating slower movement and red indicating faster. As we draw near we see a large bay named Disko Bay located just to the west of the narrow inlet, or fjord, that is home to Jakobshavn glacier. The water is cut away to reveal the historical temperature of the bay, to a depth of about 400 meters. Around Greenland, water below 150 m depth tends to be warmer than water near the surface. The change in temperature between 1952 and 2017 is shown using blue tones for colder water and red tones for warmer. The deep water warms through most of the 1990s, but cools dramatically after 2015. The ocean temperature changes are shown a second time, with a brief pause on 1979 to see the initial cooler water temperature, 2000 to view the warming and 2017 to view the current cooling trend.

The visualization pulls out to show the entire Greenland Ice Sheet while ocean is drained to reveal the shape and depth of the ocean floor around the ice sheet. Data from the ECCO ocean circulation model shows ocean currents carrying water around the southern tip of Greenland and up the west coast, where it eventually enters Disko Bay and reaches Jakboshavn glacier.

When we zoom in to the Jakobshavn glacier again, we see the glacier is blanketed by more than 40,000 radar observations. These data show the change in elevation between 2016 and 2017 as measured by an aircraft. These elevation changes are colored so that blue colors indicate an rise in the elevation and orange/red colors indicate a fall. The deepest blue color reflects the advance of the glacier from the 2016 front, appearing in the video as a shaded cliff, to its more advanced location in 2017. Farther downstream in the fjord the patches of blue and red show icebergs, which have detached from the front.

This image shows the change in the elevation of the Jakobshavn glacier between 2016 and 2017. Blue colors indicate a thickening of the glacier while orange/red indicates a slight decrease in the surrounding region. Yellow indicates no change in elevation between the years. A colorbar shows the values in meters of elevation change.

This image shows the change in the elevation of the Jakobshavn glacier between 2016 and 2017. Blue colors indicate a thickening of the glacier while orange/red indicates a slight decrease in the surrounding region. Yellow indicates no change in elevation between the years. A colorbar shows the values in meters of elevation change.

This image shows the change in the elevation of the Jakobshavn glacier between 2016 and 2017. Blue colors indicate a thickening of the glacier while orange/red indicate a slight decrease in the surrounding region. Yellow indicates no change between the years. No colorbar is shown on this image.

This image shows the change in the elevation of the Jakobshavn glacier between 2016 and 2017. Blue colors indicate a thickening of the glacier while orange/red indicate a slight decrease in the surrounding region. Yellow indicates no change between the years. No colorbar is shown on this image.

The colorbar used to map the colors depicting the change in elevation of the surface between 2016 and 2017 on the radar-measured topography.

The colorbar used to map the colors depicting the change in elevation of the surface between 2016 and 2017 on the radar-measured topography.

This image shows the bathymetry (shape and depth) of the ocean floor around Greenland. The blue arrows show the Greenland current, which flows around the southern tip of Greenland. The currents are from the ECCO ocean circulation model. To enhance the view of the ocean currents, the bathymetry of the ocean floor has been exaggerated by a factor of 30x.

This image shows the bathymetry (shape and depth) of the ocean floor around Greenland. The blue arrows show the Greenland current, which flows around the southern tip of Greenland. The currents are from the ECCO ocean circulation model. To enhance the view of the ocean currents, the bathymetry of the ocean floor has been exaggerated by a factor of 30x.

This image shows the water temperature in the Disko Bay in 2017 from the surface down to a depth of about 400 meters. Red tones indicate warmer water and blue tones indicate cooler. The bathymetry of the ocean floor has been exaggerated by 40x to enhance the view of the temperature data.

This image shows the water temperature in the Disko Bay in 2017 from the surface down to a depth of about 400 meters. Red tones indicate warmer water and blue tones indicate cooler. The bathymetry of the ocean floor has been exaggerated by 40x to enhance the view of the temperature data.

This image shows the water temperature in the Disko Bay in 2000 from the surface down to a depth of about 400 meters. Red tones indicate warmer water and blue tones indicate cooler. The bathymetry of the ocean floor has been exaggerated by 40x to enhance the view of the temperature data.

This image shows the water temperature in the Disko Bay in 2000 from the surface down to a depth of about 400 meters. Red tones indicate warmer water and blue tones indicate cooler. The bathymetry of the ocean floor has been exaggerated by 40x to enhance the view of the temperature data.

This image shows the water temperature in the Disko Bay in 1979 from the surface down to a depth of about 400 meters. Red tones indicate warmer water and blue tones indicate cooler. The bathymetry of the ocean floor has been exaggerated by 40x to enhance the view of the temperature data.

This image shows the water temperature in the Disko Bay in 1979 from the surface down to a depth of about 400 meters. Red tones indicate warmer water and blue tones indicate cooler. The bathymetry of the ocean floor has been exaggerated by 40x to enhance the view of the temperature data.

This image shows the average motion of the Greenland Ice Sheet between September 1, 2016 and June 23, 2017 as colored flow arrows, with shorter blue flow lines indicating slower movement and longer, red lines indicating faster flow.

This image shows the average motion of the Greenland Ice Sheet between September 1, 2016 and June 23, 2017 as colored flow arrows, with shorter blue flow lines indicating slower movement and longer, red lines indicating faster flow.

This visualization shows the Jakobshavn Glacier is blanketed by more than 40,000 radar observations. These data show the change in elevation between 2016 and 2017 as measured by an aircraft. These elevation changes are colored so that blue colors indicate an rise in the elevation and orange/red colors indicate a fall. The deepest blue color reflects the advance of the glacier from the 2016 front.



Credits

Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

Ocean Temperature data from NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland (OMG) Mission and ICES Dataset on Ocean Hydrography

The maps of elevation change are derived from data collected by the Airborne Glacier and Land Ice Surface Topography Interferometer

Ice Sheet velocity from MEaSUREs Greenland Ice Sheet Velocity Map from InSAR Data

Release date

This page was originally published on Monday, March 25, 2019.
This page was last updated on Monday, July 15, 2024 at 12:06 AM EDT.


Papers used in this visualization

Jakobshavn’s 20 years of Acceleration and Thinning Interrupted by Regional Ocean Cooling, Ala Khazendar, et al. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0329-3

Jakobshavn’s 20 years of Acceleration and Thinning Interrupted by Regional Ocean Cooling, Ala Khazendar, et al. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0329-3


Datasets used in this visualization

  • BMNG (Blue Marble: Next Generation) [Terra and Aqua: MODIS]

    ID: 508
    Sensor: MODISDates used: 2004

    Credit: The Blue Marble data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC).

    This dataset can be found at: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/BlueMarble/

    See all pages that use this dataset
  • 10 km Daily Sea Ice Concentration [SHIZUKU (GCOM-W1): AMSR2]

    ID: 795
    Type: Observed DataSensor: AMSR2Dates used: 2004

    Credit: AMSR2 data courtesy of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

    See all pages that use this dataset
  • 10 km Daily 89 GHz Brightness Temperature [SHIZUKU (GCOM-W1): AMSR2]

    ID: 796
    Type: Observed DataSensor: AMSR2Dates used: 2004

    Credit: AMSR2 data courtesy of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

    See all pages that use this dataset
  • MODIS Mosaic of Greenland (MOG) Image Map [Terra: MODIS]

    ID: 858
    Type: MosaicSensor: MODIS
  • BedMachine V3: Bed Topography and Ocean Bathymetry of Greenland (BedMachine V3: Bed Topography and Ocean Bathymetry of Greenland)

    ID: 1017
    Type: Data CompilationDates used: 2017

    A new compilation of Greenland bed topography that assimilates seafloor bathymetry and ice thickness data through a mass conservation approach.

    See all pages that use this dataset
  • MEaSUREs Greenland Ice Sheet Velocity Map from InSAR Data (MEaSUREs Greenland Ice Sheet Velocity Map from InSAR Data)

    ID: 1018
    Type: Data CompilationDates used: 2016 - 2017

    This data set, part of the NASA Making Earth System Data Records for Use in Research Environments (MEaSUREs) program, contains seasonal (winter) ice-sheet-wide velocity maps for Greenland. The maps are derived from Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) data.

    See all pages that use this dataset
  • Landsat 8 Mosaic of Jakobshavn Region [Landsat 8: Operational Land Imager]

    ID: 1019
    Type: Data CompilationSensor: Operational Land ImagerDates used: 08/02/2017, 09/02/2017, 09/04/2017, 09/06/2017

    Mosaic of the following Landsat 8 scenes: LC08_L1TP_008011_20170906, LC08_L1TP_008012_20170906, LC08_L1TP_010011_20170904, LC08_L1TP_010012_20170803, and LC08_L1TP_012011_20170902.

    See all pages that use this dataset
  • UAVSAR Topography of Jakobshavn Glacier (UAVSAR Topography of Jakobshavn Glacier) [airborne: Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer's (GLISTIN-A)]

    ID: 1020
    Type: Observed DataSensor: Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer's (GLISTIN-A)Dates used: 2016, 2017

    The upgraded airborne Glacier and Ice Surface Topography Interferometer (GLISTIN) provides all-weather, high-resolution swath ice surface topography.

    See all pages that use this dataset
  • Disko Bay Water Temperature Profile (Disko Bay Water Temperature Profile)

    ID: 1021
    Type: Observed DataDates used: 1952 - 2017

    The water temperature in the Disko Bay from the surface down to 690 meters.

    See all pages that use this dataset
  • ECCO Ocean Velocity in the North Atlantic (ECCO Ocean Velocity in the North Atlantic)

    ID: 1022
    Type: Model

Note: While we identify the data sets used in these visualizations, we do not store any further details, nor the data sets themselves on our site.