Markus Reinert

and 4 more

For better projections of sea level rise, two things are needed: an improved understanding of the contributing processes and their accurate representation in climate models. A major process is basal melting of ice shelves and glacier tongues by the ocean, which reduces ice sheet stability and increases ice discharge into the ocean. We study marine melting of Greenland’s largest floating ice tongue, the 79° North Glacier, using a high-resolution, 2D-vertical ocean model. While our fjord model is idealized, the results agree with observations of melt rate and overturning strength. Our setup is the first application of adaptive vertical coordinates to an ice cavity. Their stratification-zooming allows a vertical resolution finer than 1 m in the entrainment layer of the meltwater plume, which is important for the plume development. We find that the plume development is dominated by entrainment only initially. In the stratified upper part of the cavity, the subglacial plume shows continuous detrainment. It reaches neutral buoyancy near 100 m depth, detaches from the ice, and transports meltwater out of the fjord. Melting almost stops there. In a sensitivity study, we show that the detachment depth depends primarily on stratification. Our results contribute to the understanding of ice–ocean interactions in glacier cavities. Furthermore, we suggest that our modeling approach with stratification-zooming coordinates will improve the representation of these interactions in global ocean models. Finally, our idealized model topography and forcing are close to a real fjord and completely defined analytically, making the setup an interesting reference case for future model developments.
Realistically approximating the basal melting of ice shelves is critical for reliable climate model projections and the process representations in ice-ocean interaction. In this regard, extensive research attributes the massive thinning of vulnerable ice shelves to basal melting enhancement driven by ocean water warming, focusing mainly on oceanic warm water intrusion into the sub-shelf basins. However, climate models mainly underestimated the impacts of probable small-scale processes at the ice-ocean interface on basal melting by using smooth ice base topographies. This paper provides new insights into how small-scale features on the ice-ocean interface contribute to basal melting enhancement and spatial distribution. We developed a time-dependent, two-dimensional ice-shelf plume model as an optimal tool that allows a high-resolution representation of basal topography and with the unique ability to provide valuable information from the mixed boundary layer between ocean and ice shelves. In an exemplary case study for the floating ice tongue of the 79◦ North Glacier, systematic sensitive analyses were performed with the developed model. Our results show that the sub-km-scale basal channels with realistic dimensions increase the mean basal melt rate and generate extreme and sizeable lateral variability of melting at the grounding line. This mechanism is not reproducible with the tuning of drag coefficient. Besides, it reveals that the subglacial discharge in the channels has contradicting effects of reducing the melt rate by refreshing the sea water and increasing the freezing point while increasing the melt rate due to high water speed. However, the latter was dominant in our experiments.

Hans Burchard

and 5 more

Basal melting of marine-terminating glaciers, through its impact on the forces that control the flow of the glaciers, is one of the major factors determining sea level rise in a world of global warming. Detailed quantitative understanding of dynamic and thermodynamic processes in melt-water plumes underneath the ice-ocean interface is essential for calculating the subglacial melt rate. The aim of this study is therefore to develop a numerical model of high spatial and process resolution to consistently reproduce the transports of heat and salt from the ambient water across the plume into the glacial ice. Based on boundary layer relations for momentum and tracers, stationary analytical solutions for the vertical structure of subglacial non-rotational plumes are derived, including entrainment at the plume base. These solutions are used to develop and test convergent numerical formulations for the momentum and tracer fluxes across the ice-ocean interface. After implementation of these formulations into a water-column model coupled to a second-moment turbulence closure model, simulations of a transient rotational subglacial plume are performed. The simulated entrainment rate of ambient water entering the plume at its base is compared to existing entrainment parameterizations based on bulk properties of the plume. A sensitivity study with variations of interfacial slope, interfacial roughness and ambient water temperature reveals substantial performance differences between these bulk formulations. An existing entrainment parameterization based on the Froude number and the Ekman number proves to have the highest predictive skill. Recalibration to subglacial plumes using a variable drag coefficient further improves its performance.