Increasing Mass Loss from Greenland’s Mittivakkat Glacier


Warming in the Arctic during the past several decades has caused glaciers to thin and retreat. Recent mass loss from the Greenland Ice Sheet is well documented. Local glaciers peripheral to the ice sheet are also retreating, but few long-term mass-balance observations are available. This study, partially supported by DOE, focused on the Mittivakkat Gletscher (MG; 17.6 km2; 65°41 N, 37°48 W), the only local glacier in Greenland for which there exists long-term observations of both the surface mass balance and glacier front fluctuations. The study documented record mass loss in 2009 and 2010, attributed primarily to record high mean summer (June–August) temperatures in combination with lower than average winter precipitation. In addition, the 15-year mass-balance record, based on the ratio of the accumulation area to total glacier area, indicates that the glacier is significantly out of balance and will likely lose at least 70% of its current area and 80% of its volume even in the absence of further climate changes. Temperature records from coastal stations in Southeast Greenland suggest that recent MG mass losses are not a local phenomenon, but are indicative of glacier changes in the broader region. Mass balance observations for the MG therefore provide unique documentation of the general retreat of Southeast Greenland’s local glaciers under ongoing climate warming.


Mernild, S. H., Knudsen, N. T., Lipscomb, W. H., Yde, J. C., Malmros, J. K., Hasholt, B., and Jakobsen, B. H. 2011. “Increasing Mass Loss from Greenland’s Mittivakket Gletscher,” The Cryosphere 5, 341–348.