The dynamics of shelf forcing in Greenlandic fjords

Rebecca H. Jackson, Steven J. Lentz, Fiamma Straneo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The fjords that connect Greenland's glaciers to the ocean are gateways for importing heat to melt ice and for exporting meltwater into the ocean. The transport of heat and meltwater can be modulated by various drivers of fjord circulation, including freshwater, local winds, and shelf variability. Shelf-forced flows (also known as the intermediary circulation) are the dominant mode of variability in two major fjords of east Greenland, but we lack a dynamical understanding of the fjord's response to shelf forcing. Building on observations from east Greenland, we use numerical simulations and analytical models to explore the dynamics of shelf-driven flows. For the parameter space of Greenlandic fjords, we find that the fjord's response is primarily a function of three nondimensional parameters: the fjord width over the deformation radius (W/Rd), the forcing time scale over the fjord adjustment time scale, and the forcing amplitude (shelf pycnocline displacements) over the upper-layer thickness. The shelf-forced flows in both the numerical simulations and the observations can largely be explained by a simple analytical model for Kelvin waves propagating around the fjord. For fjords with W/Rd > 0.5 (most Greenlandic fjords), 3D dynamics are integral to understanding shelf forcing-the fjord dynamics cannot be approximated with 2D models that neglect cross-fjord structure. The volume flux exchanged between the fjord and shelf increases for narrow fjords and peaks around the resonant forcing frequency, dropping off significantly at higher- and lower-frequency forcing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2799-2827
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography


  • Baroclinic flows
  • Coastal flows
  • Estuaries
  • Glaciers
  • Kelvin waves
  • Regional models


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