To better understand recent rapid recession of marine-terminating glaciers in Greenland, we performed satellite and field observations near the calving front of Bowdoin Glacier, a 3 km wide outlet glacier in northwestern Greenland. Satellite data revealed a clear transition to a rapidly retreating phase in 2008 from a relatively stable glacier condition that lasted for >20 years. Ice radar measurements showed that the glacier front is grounded, but very close to the floating condition. These results, in combination with the results of ocean depth soundings, suggest bed geometry in front of the glacier is the primary control on the rate and pattern of recent rapid retreat. Presumably, glacier thinning due to atmospheric and/or ocean warming triggered the initial retreat. In situ measurements showed complex short-term ice speed variations, which were correlated with air temperature, precipitation and ocean tides. Ice speed quickly responded to temperature rise and a heavy rain event, indicating rapid drainage of surface water to the bed. Semi-diurnal speed peaks coincided with low tides, suggesting the major role of the hydrostatic pressure acting on the calving face in the force balance. These observations demonstrate that the dynamics of Bowdoin Glacier are sensitive to small perturbations occurring near the calving front.