Towards the Complete Characterization of Marine-Terminating Glacier Outlet Systems

TitleTowards the Complete Characterization of Marine-Terminating Glacier Outlet Systems
Publication TypeConference Abstract
AuthorsMayer, LA, Jakobsson, M, Mix, AC, Heffron, E, Jerram, K, Hogan, K, Muenchow, A
Conference Name2016 Fall Meeting, American Geological Society (AGU)
Conference LocationSan Francisco, CA
Conference DatesDecember 12-16
Keywordsmarine-terminating glacier outlet systems, petermann glacier

The Petermann Glacier Experiment was aimed at understanding past variations in Petermann Glacier and their relationship to changes in climatic and oceanographic conditions. A critical component of the experiment was a comprehensive program conducted on the icebreaker Oden to map submarine glacial landforms, offering insight into past ice dynamics and establishing the overall geomorphological context of the region. Concurrent water-column mapping provided remarkable insight into modern glacial, oceanographic, and biological processes suggesting that a carefully designed experiment could provide a near-complete characterization of marine-terminating glacier outlet systems.

Water-column mapping revealed seeps emanating from several seafloor regions. These features appeared along common depth zones and may represent fresh water emanating from a submerged aquifer; initial pore water analyses of cores also imply a fresh water flux into the fjord system. Water-column data also show a spatially consistent but variable distribution of a strong mid-water scattering layer, a biological response possibly tracing the inflow of Atlantic water into the fjord and enhanced by input from local outlet glaciers. The continuous nature of these acoustic records over 30 days offers a complete 4-D picture of the distribution of the scattering layer (and perhaps internal circulation patterns and water-mass interactions) with a spatial and temporal distribution far beyond that achievable by traditional oceanographic stations. Additional, higher-resolution water-column imaging around local outlet glaciers presents a clear picture of subglacial sediment-laden meltwater plumes. Thus in addition to the paleoceanographic information they provided, the acoustic systems deployed captured a 4D-view of many of the modern geological, oceanographic and ecological processes within and adjacent to the Petermann Glacier marine system. With the addition of seafloor and water-column sampling, long-term oceanographic moorings, a much more robust biological program (to understand what we are mapping in the water-column) and, the ability to extend our measurements under the ice sheet, we stand poised to truly characterize and hopefully understand the processes at work in front of marine-terminating outlet glaciers.