Stockholms universitet

Nina KirchnerFöreståndare på Tarfala

Om mig

I am professor of glaciology at the Department of Physical Geography at Stockholm University, and Director of Tarfala Research Station. Away from home, I am a regular guest lecturer at the Department of Arctic Geology at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). 

Research interests:

  • Dynamics of ice sheets and glaciers, in the past, present and future, with a special focus on the mass balance of Swedish Glaciers, of which Storglaciären holds the World’s longest timeseries; and on processes at marine ice margins floating out into polar fjords and oceans where calving takes place.
  • Development and application of methodology for remote data acquisition, such as drones for aerial glacier surveys, and autonomous platforms and instruments for data acquisition in the harsh polar underwater domain, extending from the seafloor to the seasurface. Testing of methodology in the field.
  • Development and application of numerical models for glacier and ice sheet dynamics, with focus on calving and uncertainty propagation from measurement to simulation result.
  • Impact of cascading effects of climate warming on arctic, pro- and periglacial lakes, including vertical mixing processes and ice cover phenology (timing and duration of annual lake ice cover).
  • Arctic convergence research, across disciplines.

Doing marine-glaciological, glaciological and limnological field work, I have spent more than 9 months on Research Vessels in the Arctic Ocean and its adjacent seas, and in the Ross Sea and Amundsen Sea in Antarctica. Also, I work ca 5 month/year on site at Tarfala Research Station. 




I urval från Stockholms universitets publikationsdatabas

  • A first continuous three-year temperature record from the dimictic arctic-alpine Lake Tarfala, northern Sweden

    2021. Nina Kirchner (et al.). Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine research 53 (1), 69-79


    Arctic lakes are exposed to warming during increasingly longer ice-free periods and, if located in glaciated areas, to increased inflow of meltwater and sediments. However, direct monitoring of how such lakes respond to changing environmental conditions is challenging not only because of their remoteness but also because of the scarcity of present and previously observed lake states. At the glacier-proximal Lake Tarfala in the Kebnekaise Mountains, northern Sweden, temperatures throughout the water column at its deepest part (50 m) were acquired between 2016 and 2019. This three-year record shows that Lake Tarfala is dimictic and is overturning during spring and fall, respectively. Timing, duration, and intensity of mixing processes, as well as of summer and winter stratification, vary between years. Glacial meltwater may play an important role regarding not only mixing processes but also cooling of the lake. Attribution of external environmental factors to (changes in) lake mixing processes and thermal states remains challenging owing to for example, timing of ice-on and ice-off but also reflection and absorption of light, both known to play a decisive role for lake mixing processes, are not (yet) monitored in situ at Lake Tarfala.

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  • Calving at Ryder Glacier, Northern Greenland

    2021. Felicity A. Holmes (et al.). Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface 126 (4)


    Recent evidence has shown increasing mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet, with a general trend of accelerated mass losses extending northwards. However, different glaciers have been shown to respond differently to similar external forcings, constituting a problem for extrapolating and upscaling data. Specifically, whilst some outlet glaciers have accelerated, thinned, and retreated in response to atmospheric and oceanic warming, the behavior of other marine terminating glaciers appears to be less sensitive to climate forcing. Ryder glacier, for which only a few studies have been conducted, is located in North Greenland and terminates with a floating ice tongue in Sherard Osborn Fjord. The persistence or disintegration of floating ice tongues has impacts on glacier dynamics and stability, with ramifications beyond, including sea level rise. This study focuses on understanding the controls on calving and frontal ablation of the Ryder glacier through the use of time-lapse imagery and satellite data. The results suggest that Ryder glacier has behaved independently of climate forcing during recent decades, with fjord geometry exerting a first order control on its calving.

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  • Glacial dynamics and deglaciation history of Hambergbukta reconstructed from submarine landforms and sediment cores, SE Spitsbergen, Svalbard

    2021. Riko Noormets, Anne Flink, Nina Kirchner. Boreas 50 (1), 29-50


    The submarine landforms and shallow sediment record are presented from Hambergbukta, southeastern Spitsbergen using swath-bathymetric, subbottom acoustic, and sediment core data. The mapped landforms include large terminal and end-moraines with associated debrisflow aprons on their distal flanks, drumlinized till surface, glacial lineations, medial and retreat moraines, crevasse squeeze ridge networks, eskers, as well as iceberg-produced terraces and plough-marks. Analysis of the landforms and landform assemblages in combination with the sediment core data and aerial imagery studies reveal a complex and dynamic glacial history of Hambergbukta. We present a detailed history of Hambergbreen glacier indicating two previously unknown surges as well as new details on the nature of the subsequent ice-margin retreat. The results from two gravity cores combined with the shallow acoustic stratigraphy and high-resolution bathymetry suggest that the c. AD 1900 surge was less extensive than previously thought and the retreat was most likely rapid after the c. AD 1900 and 1957 surges of the Hambergbreen. Mixed benthic foraminifera collected from the outer fjord basin date to 2456 cal. a BP, suggesting older sediments were re-worked by the c. AD 1900 surge. This highlights the importance of exercising caution when using foraminifers for dating surge events in fjord basins enclosed by prominent end-moraines.

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  • Is A Common Goal A False Hope in Convergence Research?

    2021. J. G. Ernakovich (et al.). Earth's Future 9 (5)


    The Arctic faces multiple pressures including climate change, shifting demographics, human health risks, social justice imbalances, governance issues, and expanding resource extraction. A convergence of academic disciplines-such as natural and social sciences, engineering and technology, health and medicine-and international perspectives is required to meaningfully contribute to solving the challenges of Arctic peoples and ecosystems. However, successfully carrying out convergent, international research and education remains a challenge. Here, lessons from the planning phase of a convergence research project concerned with the health of Arctic waters developed by the Arctic Science IntegrAtion Quest (ASIAQ) are discussed. We discuss our perspective on the challenges, as well as strategies for success, in convergence research as gained from the ASIAQ project which assembled an international consortium of researchers from disparate disciplines representing six universities from four countries (Sweden, Japan, Russia, and the United States) during 2018-2020.

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  • Sensitivity of ice sheet surface velocity and elevation to variations in basal friction and topography in the full Stokes and shallow-shelf approximation frameworks using adjoint equations

    2021. Gong Cheng, Nina Kirchner, Per Lötstedt. The Cryosphere 15 (2), 715-742


    Predictions of future mass loss from ice sheets are afflicted with uncertainty, caused, among others, by insufficient understanding of spatiotemporally variable processes at the inaccessible base of ice sheets for which few direct observations exist and of which basal friction is a prime example. Here, we present a general numerical framework for studying the relationship between bed and surface properties of ice sheets and glaciers. Specifically, we use an inverse modeling approach and the associated time-dependent adjoint equations, derived in the framework of a full Stokes model and a shallow-shelf/shelfy-stream approximation model, respectively, to determine the sensitivity of grounded ice sheet surface velocities and elevation to time-dependent perturbations in basal friction and basal topography. Analytical and numerical examples are presented showing the importance of including the time-dependent kinematic free surface equation for the elevation and its adjoint, in particular for observations of the elevation. A closed form of the analytical solutions to the adjoint equations is given for a two-dimensional vertical ice in steady state under the shallow-shelf approximation. There is a delay in time between a seasonal perturbation at the ice base and the observation of the change in elevation. A perturbation at the base in the topography has a direct effect in space at the surface above the perturbation, and a perturbation in the friction is propagated directly to the surface in time.

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  • Ryder Glacier in northwest Greenland is shielded from warm Atlantic water by a bathymetric sill

    2020. Martin Jakobsson (et al.). Communications earth & environment 1 (1)


    The processes controlling advance and retreat of outlet glaciers in fjords draining the Greenland Ice Sheet remain poorly known, undermining assessments of their dynamics and associated sea-level rise in a warming climate. Mass loss of the Greenland Ice Sheet has increased six-fold over the last four decades, with discharge and melt from outlet glaciers comprising key components of this loss. Here we acquired oceanographic data and multibeam bathymetry in the previously uncharted Sherard Osborn Fjord in northwest Greenland where Ryder Glacier drains into the Arctic Ocean. Our data show that warmer subsurface water of Atlantic origin enters the fjord, but Ryder Glacier's floating tongue at its present location is partly protected from the inflow by a bathymetric sill located in the innermost fjord. This reduces under-ice melting of the glacier, providing insight into Ryder Glacier's dynamics and its vulnerability to inflow of Atlantic warmer water. A bathymetric sill in Sherard Osborn Fjord, northwest Greenland shields Ryder Glacier from melting by warm Atlantic water found at the bottom of the fjord, according to high-resolution bathymetric mapping and oceanographic data.

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  • Simulated last deglaciation of the Barents Sea Ice Sheet primarily driven by oceanic conditions

    2020. Michele Petrini (et al.). Quaternary Science Reviews 238


    The Barents Sea Ice Sheet was part of an interconnected complex of ice sheets, collectively referred to as the Eurasian Ice Sheet, which covered north-westernmost Europe, Russia and the Barents Sea during the Last Glacial Maximum (around 21 ky BP). Due to common geological features, the Barents Sea component of this ice complex is seen as a paleo-analogue for the present-day West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Investigating key processes driving the last deglaciation of the Barents Sea Ice Sheet represents an important tool to interpret recent observations in Antarctica over the multi-millennial temporal scale of glaciological changes. We present results from a perturbed physics ensemble of ice sheet model simulations of the last deglaciation of the Barents Sea Ice Sheet, forced with transient atmospheric and oceanic conditions derived from AOGCM simulations. The ensemble of transient simulations is evaluated against the databased DATED-1 reconstruction to construct minimum, maximum and average deglaciation scenarios. Despite a large model/data mismatch at the western and eastern ice sheet margins, the simulated and DATED-1 deglaciation scenarios agree well on the timing of the deglaciation of the central and northern Barents Sea. We find that the simulated deglaciation of the Barents Sea Ice Sheet is primarily driven by the oceanic forcing, with prescribed eustatic sea level rise amplifying the ice sheet sensitivity to sub-shelf melting over relatively short intervals. Our results highlight that the sub-shelf melting has a very strong control on the simulated grounding-line flux, showing that a slow, gradual ocean warming trend is capable of triggering sustained grounded ice discharge over multi-millennial timescales, even without taking into account marine ice sheet or ice cliff instability.

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  • Skewness of Temperature Data Implies an Abrupt Change in the Climate System Between 1985 and 1991

    2020. Alasdair Skelton, Nina Kirchner, I. Kockum. Geophysical Research Letters 47 (23)


    Instrumental records of mean annual temperature extend back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries at multiple sites in Europe. For such long time series, we expect and find that histograms of mean annual temperature data become skewed toward higher temperatures with time because of global warming. However, we also find that skewness changed abruptly and started increasing between 1985 and 1991 (95% confidence) at 17 sites. We argue that this finding may imply an abrupt change in the climate system affecting Europe which probably occurred at this time. We investigate possible causes and find Arctic sea ice loss, potentially linked to reduced sulfate aerosol emissions and coupled to temperature by an albedo feedback mechanism, a likely candidate. This is based on good correlations of sea ice extent and sulfate aerosol emissions with skewness of mean annual temperature data.

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  • Water current measurements using oceanographic bottom lander LoTUS

    2020. Maria Kjelldorff (et al.). Applied Ocean Research 94


    LOTUS is a bottom landing, Long Term Underwater Sensing node made for the observation of ocean water temperatures. LoTUS is moored to the seafloor and measures temperature according to a specified time schedule until, at the end of the mission, it surfaces to transmit the collected data to on-shore recipients using an Iridium link. The paper presents an extension of the sensing capability which includes water current velocity (speed and direction) using a robust, reliable and inexpensive Eulerian method. The method is based on the tilting stick principle where a combination of inertial and magnetic measurement data are used. The paper discusses the principal technique, modeling of the system, practical considerations, optimization of the setup for specific flow conditions, and the verification of experimental data.

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  • Calving controlled by melt-under-cutting

    2019. Penelope How (et al.). Annals of Glaciology 60 (78), 20-31


    We present a highly detailed study of calving dynamics at Tunabreen, a tidewater glacier in Svalbard. A time-lapse camera was trained on the terminus and programmed to capture images every 3 seconds over a 28-hour period in August 2015, producing a highly detailed record of 34 117 images from which 358 individual calving events were distinguished. Calving activity is characterised by frequent events (12.8 events h(-1)) that are small relative to the spectrum of calving events observed, demonstrating the prevalence of small-scale calving mechanisms. Five calving styles were observed, with a high proportion of calving events (82%) originating at, or above, the waterline. The tidal cycle plays a key role in the timing of calving events, with 68% occurring on the falling limb of the tide. Calving activity is concentrated where meltwater plumes surface at the glacier front, and a similar to 5 m undercut at the base of the glacier suggests that meltwater plumes encourage melt-under-cutting. We conclude that frontal ablation at Tunabreen may be paced by submarine melt rates, as suggested from similar observations at glaciers in Svalbard and Alaska. Using submarine melt rate to calculate frontal ablation would greatly simplify estimations of tidewater glacier losses in prognostic models.

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  • High-resolution bathymetric mapping reveals subaqueous glacial landforms in the Arctic alpine lake Tarfala, Sweden

    2019. Nina Kirchner (et al.). Journal of Quaternary Science 34 (6), 452-462


    In Arctic alpine regions, glacio-lacustrine environments respond sensitively to variations in climate conditions, impacting, for example,glacier extent and rendering former ice-contact lakes into ice distal lakes and vice versa. Lakefloors may hold morphological records of past glacier extent, but remoteness and long periods of ice cover on such lakes make acquisition of high-resolution bathymetric datasets challenging. Lake Tarfala and Kebnepakte Glacier, located in the Kebnekaise mountains, northern Sweden, comprise a small, dynamic glacio-lacustrine system holding a climate archive that is not well studied. Using an autonomous surface vessel, a high-resolution bathymetric dataset for Lake Tarfala was acquired in 2016, from which previously undiscovered end moraines and a potential grounding line feature were identified. For Kebnepakte Glacier, structure-from-motion photogrammetry was used to reconstruct its shape from photographs taken in 1910 and 1945. Combining these methods connects the glacial landform record identified at the lakefloor with the centennial-scale dynamic behaviour of Kebnepakte Glacier. During its maximum 20(th) century extent, attained c. 1910, Kebnepakte Glacier reached far into Lake Tarfala, but had retreated onto land by 1945, at an average of 7.9 m year(-1).

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  • Relating ocean temperatures to frontal ablation rates at Svalbard tidewater glaciers

    2019. Felicity A. Holmes (et al.). Scientific Reports 9


    Fjord-terminating glaciers in Svalbard lose mass through submarine melt and calving (collectively: frontal ablation), and surface melt. With the recently observed Atlantification of water masses in the Barents Sea, warmer waters enter these fjords and may reach glacier fronts, where their role in accelerating frontal ablation remains insufficiently understood. Here, the impact of ocean temperatures on frontal ablation at two glaciers is assessed using time series of water temperature at depth, analysed alongside meteorological and glaciological variables. Ocean temperatures at depth are harvested at distances of 1 km from the calving fronts of the glaciers Kronebreen and Tunabreen, western Svalbard, from 2016 to 2017. We find ocean temperature at depth to control c. 50% of frontal ablation, making it the most important factor. However, its absolute importance is considerably less than found by a 2013-2014 study, where temperatures were sampled much further away from the glaciers. In light of evidence that accelerating levels of global mass loss from marine terminating glaciers are being driven by frontal ablation, our findings illustrate the importance of sampling calving front proximal water masses.

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