Collaborative Research: Sediment and Stability: Quantifying the Effect of Moraine Building on Greenland Tidewater Glaciers

Project Details


The Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) is presently the largest contributor of added mass to rising sea levels, recently surpassing contributions from alpine glaciers and ice caps, the Antarctic Ice Sheet and land water storage. Mass loss is concentrated at the periphery of the ice sheet where low-lying outlet glaciers drain into the warm ocean surrounding Greenland. Despite overall mass loss, outlet glaciers of the Greenland Ice Sheet have experienced significant variability in the amount of glacier-front retreat observed over the satellite era. This variability remains unexplained because there are many processes that can influence the position of the front of an outlet glacier and these environments are difficult to obtain observations in. This project aims to collect observations from the front of three outlet glaciers in Greenland where retreat variability has been observed. The goal of this project is to determine if the deposition of sediment at the ice-ocean boundary is responsible for the observed variability in glacier retreat. Further, this project will measure the rates and types of sedimentation processes present at the active glacier front as well as the past position of each glacier observed in the satellite record. The project will also take observations of basic glacier parameters that may be responsible for variations in the rates of sedimentation between glaciers.The overarching goal of this project is to understand the fundamental drivers of ice sheet change and stability through focusing on a poorly understood, observation-limited part of the system: the sediment budget. Moraine building at glacier termini may enable larger steady-state glaciers than would be possible in the absence of sediment, as is evident in high-meltwater settings (e.g., Alaska). However, processes and rates of proglacial sedimentation are poorly known, especially in Greenland, where morainal banks are abundant but where the influence of bank formation on ice sheet dynamics is unconstrained. The central hypothesis of this project is that morainal bank sedimentation can stabilize or delay retreat for some glacier systems. This project will test this hypothesis with observations of four processes that contribute to moraine building at three neighboring Greenland glaciers with sharply different dynamic histories and geometries. The project will deploy a novel remotely operated vehicle (ROV Nereid) designed for surveying and sampling in deep, ice marginal environments to obtain high-resolution geological, geophysical, and oceanographic measurements at the ice-sediment-ocean interface. This project will train graduate students, with a focus on mentorship and diversifying the geosciences.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
Effective start/end date1/1/2412/31/25


  • National Science Foundation: $106,348.00


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