Shock news: Melting ice in Greenland makes seawater a bit less salty

From AARHUS UNIVERSITY and the obvious science with one datapoint department

The melting ice makes the sea around Greenland less saline
For the first time, ocean data from Northeast Greenland reveals the long-term impact of the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

Greenland’s ice sheet melts and sends large amounts of fresh water into the coastal waters, where it is of major importance for local production but potentially also for global ocean currents. Photo from Young Sound, Northeast Greenland. CREDIT Photo: Mikael Sejr

For the first time, ocean data from Northeast Greenland reveals the long-term impact of the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. The observed increase in freshwater content will affect the conditions in all Greenland fjords and may ultimately affect the global ocean currents that keep Europe warm.

Today, researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark present a 13-year long time series of data in the esteemed journal Nature, Scientific Reports, which shows how the melting ice affects coastal waters in Northeast Greenland.

Over the years, the dramatic meltdown of ice in the Arctic Ocean has received great attention and is easy to observe via satellite images. Also, glaciers have been observed to melt and retreat and the researchers know that today’s meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet has more than doubled compared with the period 1983-2003. How the increased influx of fresh water will affect the marine environment is, however, largely unknown.

Now, unique annual measurements made within the framework of the ‘Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring Program’ since 2003 in Northeast Greenland tell a clear tale – fresh water from the ice sheet accumulates in the surface layers of the surrounding sea and flows into the Greenland fjords.

The measurements were made in Young Sound and in the sea outside Young Sound. Here, the long time series shows that the surface water layers became up to 1.5 per mill less saline during the measurement period. The is equivalent to an increase in freshwate [sic] content from approximately 1 m in 2003 to almost 4 m in 2015!

Part of the fresh water likely originates from melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet north of the Young Sound and is transported with the East Greenland ocean current along the eastern coast of Greenland.

From the ocean, the fresh water flows into the Greenland fjords where is influence local circulation with impacts on the production and ecosystem structure. More fresh water in the surface water layers makes it harder for the nutrient-rich bottom water to rise to the upper layers where the sunlight ensures the production of plankton algae in summer.

Figure legends 1A. Changes in summer salinity from 2003 to 2015 in Young Sound, NE Greenland. The graph show how the heavy, nutrient rich saline water is being restricted to the deeper layers due to inflow of fresh melt water from the Greenland Ice Sheet. 1B. Inter-annual changes in the integrated total freshwater content in the water column of Young Sound showing an increase from approximately 1 m of pure freshwater in 2003 to almost 4 m in 2015. CREDIT Mikael Sejr

Plankton algae form the basis for all life in the sea and a lower production of algae will result in a lower production of fish. Today, fishing constitutes approx. 88% of Greenland’s exports.

Melting of the ice sheet in Northeast Greenland is significantly lower than in southern and western Greenland, and the researchers warn that the effects may be far more dramatic in other parts of the Greenland coastal waters than in Young Sound.

At a global scale, the increased melting of the ice sheet contributes to rising sea level and may impact global ocean circulation patterns through the so-called ‘thermohaline circulation’ that sustains among others, the Gulf Stream, which keeps Europe warm.


The article “Evidence of local and regional freshering of Northeast Greenland coastal waters” is published in Nature, Scientific Reports on Friday, 13 October.


85 thoughts on “Shock news: Melting ice in Greenland makes seawater a bit less salty

    • Yes, and thank goodness it never rains or snows over these seas either – the entire food chain would rapidly become extinct!! The poor polar bears, OMG!!!!

      • ANd algae and plankton do not grow in any fresh waters either. Ever. Not sure what that green stuff is out on the lake, but it can not be algae.

        I wonder how any animals in the North Atlantic are survived the Mideaval Warming?

    • “whether or not the fresh water was wet or dry to the touch”

      Geez, it was only 13 years of study, cut ’em some slack. Answers to those kind of questions take time, plenty of effort, and lots and lots money.

      • “whether or not the fresh water was wet or dry to the touch”

        Wet or dry depends on whether it came from rotten ice.

  1. Impact on Greenland fisheries is not discernable. Greenland summer melt rate has not increased. Seawater at exactly one location isn’t indicative of Greenland.

    • For the first time, ocean data from Northeast Greenland reveals the long-term impact of the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

      Not 1st by a long shot. They need better historians on staff.
      Changes and fluctuations in Arctic seaice extent have been analysed by Mysak and Manak (1989); they find no long term trends in sea-ice extent between 1953 and 1984 in a number of Arctic ocean regions but substantial decadal time scale variability was evident in the Atlantic sector. These variations were found to be consistent with the development, movement and decay of the “Great Salinity Anomaly” noted in Section 7.7. Sea-ice conditions are now reported regularly in marine synoptic observations, as well as by special reconnaissance flights, and coastal radar. Especially importantly, satellite observations have been used to map sea-ice extent routinely since the early 1970s. The American Navy Joint Ice Center has produced weekly charts which have been digitised by NOAA. These data are summarized in Figure 7.20 which is based on analyses carried out on a 1° latitude x 2.5° longitude grid. Sea-ice is defined to be present when its concentration exceeds 10% (Ropelewski, 1983). Since about 1976 the areal extent of sea-ice in the Northern Hemisphere has varied about a constant climatological level but in 1972-1975 sea-ice extent was significantly less.

      And the Russians are measuring it currently. From 2012
      Drastic cooling all over the Northern Hemisphere. The thing is that according to their calculations, “a great salinity anomaly” is coming, which will cause the fall of average temperature and bring about frosty winters in the coming years. The oceanologist and doctor of physical and mathematical sciences Nikolai Diansky has for years compared data about change of salinity of waters of the Arctic regions with weather changes on the planet. He took reference data from his colleagues in every corner of the globe. The scientist’s diagram prove that the global warming leads to massive melting of glaciers and increase in spillover of the Siberian rivers. As a result the Arctic Ocean has collected a lot of fresh water, which is will soon start pouring out through the Canadian and Greenland straits to the Northern Atlantic.This is where Gulf Stream, the main “bed warmer” of Europe flows. Its warm salty water is going to be covered with cold fresh water. Thus, the heat will not be let out and thus the climate in Europe and entire Northern hemisphere is going to cool down. – See more at:

      Great Salinity Anomaly starts in Russia and generally leads to Much COLDER climate in Europe.

    • Contrariwise. The waters off calving glaciers are high in mineral nutrients from the finely divided moraine material in the glacier ice and highly productive. They are therefore among the best places for seeing polar bears, seals, belugas and seabirds and favored hunting areas for inuits.

      • My comment has been shoved down a bit. It was in response to “arctic ice isn’t made from salt water.”
        Of course glaciers are full of dissolved mineral. They don’t call it “glacial milk” because it comes from calving glaciers.

  2. You cant argue with the results of adding freshwater to saltwater makes it less saline, especially at the source. However, a study including mixing zones, algae production and fish harvesting would have been meaningful.

  3. One wonders how the earth survived when all those enormous continental glaciers (far bigger than the Greenland glacier) melted a mere 10k yrs ago.

    • Ref davidandrews723 above –
      “Nature laughed it off”

      Seems about right – although the rent-seeking ‘scientists’ may not appreciate – let alone agree.


  4. There reallis a case for shutting down large swathes of pointless University research. The one who stdies the hisyory of early feamle playrights was on last night. How does this benefit the people who pay for it, even tenuously, in terms of how we can use that knowledge today. It doesn’t? Fire then all! And Melvyn Bragg who [provides a home for the pointless to pontificate on things that don’t matter and help no one. That’s the arts. What you do when you can get money for doing nothing useful. etc.

    • brian – they should send the money to me
      – or the NHS – and better management would help the NHS too!.

      So, I am probably the better option.
      Cash only, please.
      I take GBP; USD; JPY; EUR – but only up to 100 Euro notes. [500 Euro notes are for drug smuggler overlords and – possibly – recently disgraced Hollywood Wonderfolk – perchance with the initials HW] plus CDN AUD and NZD.

      No bitcoin. Ta.


    • Surely research on early female playwrights would be essential reading on the long space flight to Mars and planets beyond. Otherwise if it is a mixed sex crew, as it almost certainly will be, the only other option to pass the time would be zero gravity hanky panky.

      Actually, on reflection scratch that. The boredom induced by being forced to read about early female playwrights would induce immediate adoption of other activities to pass the time.

  5. I may be mistaken but aren’t fjords the mouths of the glaciers where they meet the sea (or at least the trough created by remnants of a receding glacier)? Wouldn’t one expect that significant amounts of fresh water would be entering the fjords from those sources as well , if not more so?

    • Aarhus is the new Nice of Denmark. People from the hotter countries are already packing in for holidays, with Merkel’s permission.

      It only that the people of colder countries don’t see the joy, but just stick to the old Nice

  6. “Plankton algae form the basis for all life in the sea and a lower production of algae will result in a lower production of fish.”

    Does it follow then, that a larger production of algae will result in a larger production of fish? If so, then should we be looking to increase the plankton algae’s access to what it consumes? Since plankton algae consume Carbon Dioxide, we should look to increase access to CO2.

    • That would require putting more CO2 in the water, which presumably would come out of the air. Colder water holds more CO2. Phytoplankton get their CO2 from the water around them.

    • I would say, “NICE FIND!” but you were not supposed to think of that. Also, do you suppose that warmer water produces more, or less algae growth? Do you suppose that Algae only grows in salt water?

      • Generally speaking cold ocean waters are much more productive than warm. Mainly because they contain more nutrients, and not only CO2.

      • Tty,

        Correct. Even in the tropics. Consider the productivity of cold, coastal upwelling waters off South America, and of the Humboldt Current. Those sardine-rich waters account for the gigantic guano deposits exploited for so long.

  7. A column of freshwater almost 4 meters thick atop the saltwater below it? And, merely from melting glaciers a fair distance away from the measurement sites? The first thought that comes to mind is; how does that compare to the depth of freshwater floating over saltwater at the mouths of huge rivers such as the Amazon or the Mississippi? Certainly the water discharge from those rivers must be orders of magnitude larger than whatever the melting ice would produce. And, my understanding is that from space the plumes of discharge from these rivers can be seen traveling far out into the ocean. Nevertheless, the mixing of saltwater and freshwater, even with a flow rate significantly exceeding any conceivable flows from a melting glacier, still occurs near the mouth. The estuaries are brackish. So, how did these researchers arrive at the their measurements?

      • Greenland melt and calving is in near balance with Greenland precipitation.
        It is likely that this year Greenland gained frozen mass.

    • Good question. Another inconvenient ttruth: And if fresh water is such a detriment to seafood production, how is it that Lousiana, a small state, accounts for almost 25% of the seafood production of the continental US? Only Alaska produces more, but then, there are probably 100 Louisianas in Alaska.

    • As you know, an ocean can have rivers of fresh(ish) water extend far out to sea. These rivers will occur at different depths. It’s very counterintuitive to me, but ocean water mixing is not the norm, it seems the sea is very biased in its make up.

    • Sure getting tired of being doomed. Been that way since I was in first grade with “Duck and Cover” and the air raid drills when JFK went head to head with the USSR over nukes in Cuba. Then the missile gap, then the melt downs that were “inevitable” (according to Hanoi Jane) then the impending ice age and TE lead in gasoline, ozone holes from my deodorant can, flu pandemics, AIDS, Legionnaires Disease, acid rain and Yellowstone exploding, and now Global incineration in place of an ice age. Well now I’m at retirement age and STILL doomed! Sheesh! If I hadn’t been told so often that I was doomed I might have invested in Micro$oft during their IPO and would at least be happier in my final doomed years.

      • Duck and cover always reminds me of the safety briefing I used to give my friends in my little aeroplane.

        After point out the single door to exit the plane I used to say that in the unlikely event of an emergency put your head between your knees and kiss your arse goodbye.

        They always said it lightened the mood during safety briefings on commercial flights especially the bit about the whistle on the life jacket.

  8. The crises ended after Trump shutdown the Parisite Agreenmint . And yet the anticipated Nobel Prize wasn’t awarded for saving the planet and all its inhabitants from the Gang Green. It’s rumored that lefties are pressuring Harvey Wallbanger to fund the greenmint for pollenating a potted plant against its will .

    Insiders say the recipients, were wearing rubber gloves, though, to collect the filthy lucre. They sought cash from the HilliBillie Foundation, too, but found the windows recently boarded up. It’s just Deplorable. Even entitlements are getting hard to collect on.

  9. I wonder if the Aarhus people have looked at the deep fiords of South West New Zealand? They would find that the top layer is essentially fresh. Curiously colonies of seals inhabit the area so I assume the sea life has not been unduly affected over millennia.

  10. I rarely go to bar. But, despite being a layman in many scientific areas, I do know that if I order a bourbon on the rocks but wait for the ice to melt before I drink it, the bourbon has been diluted.
    (Maybe that’s the real “C” in Global Barming?8-)

  11. I guess they ignore that the dilution of salt with fresh water also dilutes the CO2 and other minerals and gases in the water.

  12. To adapt from Billy Madison, this paper is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever seen. At no point in your rambling, incoherent drivel were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone who has read your paper is now dumber for having seen it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your souls.

  13. I think we should just ask the Vikings how bad the fishing was when it is warmer in Greenland. They lived there for nearly 500 years during the MWP. They lived there on farms and villages that are just now being uncovered by melting ice. They grew food that it is still not warm enough to grow. They ate fish. And the melting ice did not disrupt the Gulf Stream or wreak havoc on European weather. It was unusually nice in Europe during this time, so they built big cathedrals and didn’t die of plagues.

    So chill out dudes at Aarhus U. The Earth is fine. Save yourself.

  14. Sorry as a marine fisheries biologist I am having a hard time being concerned with “a surface water layers [becoming] up to 1.5 per mill less saline during the measurement period. Standard sea water is 35 parts per thousand. As for affecting Greenland’s fisheries. It would take some convincing for me to believe that such freshwater inputs would have an adverse impact. Right now Greenland’s fisheries, like the maritime provinces, are all recovering for gross overfishing. Which initially was being blamed on, you guess it, CAGW.

  15. This is a useful piece of work and it seems unhelpful to simply mock it.
    The amount of fresh water runoff has roughly quadrupled in the 13 year period of the study, that is interesting, especially as the entire period was within the pause of global temperature increases.
    Something is changing, which deserves continued observation at least.

      • “… the Greenland glaciers are increasing again.”

        You do know that in a warming scenario, then there will be more WV available for snowfall (over a sufficently cold/high region)?
        Thanks for confirming.
        Also from that same website …

        “Over the year, it snows more than it melts, but calving of icebergs also adds to the total mass budget of the ice sheet. Satellite observations over the last decade show that the ice sheet is not in balance. The calving loss is greater than the gain from surface mass balance, and Greenland is losing mass at about 200 Gt/yr.”

      • Toneb

        No, not true. Glacier calving mass can only occur when the glaciers end at the sea, or discharge onto a downward slope that itself opens into the sea. Greenland is a very large island (2.04 MKm^2) and spans many degrees of latitude (60 North to 82 North) but ONLY the very narrow 10-30 km wide coastal band of mountains face the sea. ONLY that little band around the outside of Greenland spawns mountain-top glaciers that “might” (if they grow long enough to hit the sea) “might” break off and calve icebergs. The entire inland area of Greenland BETWEEN the coastal mountains covered by a ever-growing TRAPPED icecap of 85 – 92% of Greenland’s area. That icecap CANNOT calve icebergs – the icecap stops at the mountain peaks. Now, at the center of the icecap, the total elevation is much higher than the mountains around the caost, and you might be led to believe that this means the ice will flow over the mountains and continue to the sea. But the slope of the icecap is too shallow for that to happen: 1000 meters difference in height over 700 kilometers? No, that ice don’t flow.

      • I found the last 3 paragraphs contained in the link from NASA most interesting, especially that about “consensus”….. Apparently the science isn’t quite settled. We’ll need more money.
        Pesky variables.

      • “Toneb~ glaciers have been calving for a billion years. What exactly is your point?”

        My point is exactly as stated by bmi …

        “The calving loss is greater than the gain from surface mass balance, and Greenland is losing mass at about 200 Gt/yr.

        And, again, as stated, that snow mass should increase, commensurate with a warming world.
        And that the post I replied to
        a) did not give the whole story.
        b) is as expected.

        And for the benefit of RACook
        Calving means into the sea.

    • Interesting, not sure how useful this work really is. Better that the money be spent understanding cod recruitment fluctuations which would be of greater benefit to the Greenland people since their primary industry if fishing. I don’t believe anyone would argue that the climate isn’t changing, it always has, and always will. Like scientific consensus, stable climate is an oxymoron. My personal view is we have been warming since the last glaciation, a little more during the Roman era and then again during the Medieval Warming Period (also the Viking age) and a cooler during the Little Ice Age. Since the end of the LIA, which coincides with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we have gone back to the same rate of warming on average. Glaciers advance and retreat and can do so rapidly. Ever read about the Ice Man, how he died and how he was found?

  16. A few data points from a short period of time CANNOT reveal the long term impact of anything – unless you are conducting an experiment with one single things that change and all other changes absolutely controlled/prevented.

    • No argument or claims of apocalypse, simply a finding of a provocative trend, which deserves further study imho. We should remain curious about changes in our world, it can be useful sometimes.

  17. The Greenland melt pulse is the part of the AMO that comes just before the cooling phase.

    1 Gulf stream carries extra-saline water to far North Atlantic
    2 Extra-saline water in far North Atlantic is cooled, becomes extra dense and downwells to the bottom.
    3 Cold bottom water flows south, impelling more Gulf stream – strengthening the Gulf Stream by positive feedback.
    4 Strong Gulf stream warms NH climate and the water around Greenland causing ice melt
    5. Greenland freshwater pulse from ice melt interrupts far North Atlantic cold downwelling
    6. With deep water formation reduced, Gulf stream weakens
    7. Weakened Gulf stream causes NH cooling and reverses Greenland melt into ice gain, meltwater dissipates. So the gulf stream strengthens again.

    Back to 1 …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s