Using microwave satellite data, we explore the spatial and temporal covariance of sea ice extent and ice sheet surface-melt around Greenland from 1979 to 2007. Significant covariance is discovered in several loci in the late summer, with the strongest covariance in western Greenland, particularly in the southwest (Kangerlussuaq).

In this region, wind direction patterns and a statistical lag analysis of ice retreat/advance and surface-melt event timings suggest that sea ice extent change is a potential driver of ice sheet melt. Here, late summer wind directions facilitate onshore advection of ocean heat, and enhanced melting on the ice sheet commonly occurs after reductions in offshore sea ice.

Hence, this study identifies for the first time the covariability patterns of sea ice and ice sheet melt and suggests that a retreating sea ice margin may enhance melting over the ice sheet.