Heat, salt, and freshwater budgets for a glacial fjord in Greenland

Rebecca H. Jackson, Fiammetta Straneo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


In Greenland's glacial fjords, heat and freshwater are exchanged between glaciers and the ocean. Submarine melting of glaciers has been implicated as a potential trigger for recent glacier acceleration, and observations of ocean heat transport are increasingly being used to infer the submarine melt rates. The complete heat, salt, and mass budgets that underlie such methods, however, have been largely neglected. Here, a new framework for exploring glacial fjord budgets is developed. Building on estuarine studies of salt budgets, the heat, salt, and mass transports through the fjord are decomposed, and new equations for calculating freshwater fluxes from submarine meltwater and runoff are presented. This method is applied to moored records from Sermilik Fjord, near the terminus of Helheim Glacier, to evaluate the dominant balances in the fjord budgets and to estimate freshwater fluxes. Throughout the year, two different regimes are found. In the nonsummer months, advective transports are balanced by changes in heat/salt storage within their ability to measure; freshwater fluxes cannot be inferred as a residual. In the summer, a mean exchange flow emerges, consisting of inflowing Atlantic water and outflowing glacially modified water. This exchange transports heat toward the glacier and is primarily balanced by changes in storage and latent heat for melting ice. The total freshwater flux increases over the summer, reaching 1200 ± 700 m3 s-1 of runoff and 1500 ± 500 m3 s-1 of submarine meltwater from glaciers and icebergs in August. The methods and results highlight important components of fjord budgets, particularly the storage and barotropic terms, that have been not been appropriately considered in previous estimates of submarine melting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2735-2768
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography


  • Atm/Ocean Structure/ Phenomena
  • Circulation/ Dynamics
  • Coastal flows
  • Estuaries
  • Freshwater
  • Geographic location/entity
  • Glaciers
  • In situ oceanic observations
  • Observational techniques and algorithms
  • Snowmelt/icemelt


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