Measured Horizontal Temperature Gradients Constrain Heat Transfer Mechanisms in Greenland Ice

Benjamin H. Hills, Joel T. Harper, Neil F. Humphrey, Toby W. Meierbachtol

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Ice in the ablation zone of the Greenland ice sheet is known to contain vertical temperature gradients that arise from conduction at the boundaries, the addition of strain and latent heat, and advective heat transport. A three-dimensional array of temperature measurements in a grid of boreholes reveals horizontal ice temperature gradients that challenge the present conceptualization of heat transfer. We measure two distinct types of temperature variability in the horizontal direction, one impacting a confined region where ice temperatures span a range of 5°C, and another with temperatures consistently varying by approximately 2°C across the entire 3-D block. We suggest the first demonstrates the localized and limited nature of latent heat input, and the second demonstrates that vertical heat advection outpaces diffusion. These findings imply that ice flow is highly variable over sub-ice-thickness length scales, which in turn generates contrasts in ice temperature that may impact ice deformation and fracturing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9778-9785
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 16 2017


  • Greenland ice sheet
  • heat transfer
  • ice temperature


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