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Spatiotemporal variability of oxygen isotope compositions in three contrasting glacier river catchments in Greenland

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Andrew RussellORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Analysis of stable oxygen isotope (δ18O) characteristics is a useful tool to investigate water provenance in glacier river systems. In order to attain knowledge on the diversity of spatio-temporal δ18O variations in glacier rivers, we have examined three glacierized catchments in Greenland with different areas, glacier hydrology and thermal regimes. At Mittivakkat Gletscher River, a small river draining a local temperate glacier in southeast Greenland, diurnal oscillations in δ18O occur with a three-hour time lag to the diurnal oscillations in runoff. Throughout the peak flow season the δ18O composition is controlled by the proportion between snowmelt and ice melt with episodic inputs of rainwater and occasional storage and release of a specific water component due to changes in the subglacial drainage system. At Kuannersuit Glacier River on the island Qeqertarsuaq, the δ18O characteristics were examined after the major 1995–1998 glacier surge event. Despite large variations in the δ18O values of glacier ice on the newly formed glacier tongue, there were no diurnal oscillations in the bulk meltwater emanating from the glacier in the post-surge years 2000–2001. In 2002 there were indications of diurnal oscillations, and in 2003 there were large diurnal fluctuations in δ18O. At Watson River, a large catchment at the western margin of the Greenland Ice Sheet, the spatial distribution of δ18O in the river system was applied to fingerprint the relative runoff contributions from sub-catchments. Spot sampling indicates that during the early melt season most of the river water (64–73 %) derived from the Qinnguata Kuussua tributary, whereas the water flow on 23 July 2009 was dominated by bulk meltwater from the Akuliarusiarsuup Kuua tributary (where 7 and 67 % originated from the Russell Glacier and Leverett Glacier sub-catchments, respectively). A comparison of the δ18O compositions from glacial river water in Greenland shows distinct differences between water draining local glaciers (between −17.4 and −13.7 ‰), large ice caps (between −23.0 and −17.8 ‰) and the Greenland Ice Sheet (between −29.9 and −23.2 ‰).

Publication metadata

Author(s): Yde JC, Knudsen NT, Steffensen JP, Carrivick JL, Hasholt B, Ingeman-Nielsen T, Kronborg C, Larsen NK, Mernild SH, Oerter H, Roberts DH, Russell AJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Hyrdology and Earth System Sciences

Year: 2015

Volume: 12

Issue: 6

Pages: 5841-5893

Online publication date: 18/06/2015

Acceptance date: 19/05/2015

Date deposited: 12/10/2015

ISSN (print): 1027-5606

ISSN (electronic): 1607-7938

Publisher: Copernicus GmbH


DOI: 10.5194/hessd-12-5841-2015


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