• Granular decoherence precedes ice mélange failure and glacier calving at Jakobshavn Isbræ

      Cassotto, Ryan; Burton, Justin C.; Amundson, Jason M.; Fahnestock, Mark; Truffer, Martin (Springer Nature, 2021-05-27)
      The stability of the world’s largest glaciers and ice sheets depends on mechanical and thermodynamic processes occurring at the glacier–ocean boundary. A buoyant agglomeration of icebergs and sea ice, referred to as ice mélange, often forms along this boundary and has been postulated to affect ice-sheet mass losses by inhibiting iceberg calving. Here, we use terrestrial radar data sampled every 3 min to show that calving events at Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland, are preceded by a loss of flow coherence in the proglacial ice mélange by up to an hour, wherein individual icebergs flowing in unison undergo random displacements. A particle dynamics model indicates that these fluctuations are likely due to buckling and rearrangements of the quasi-two-dimensional material. Our results directly implicate ice mélange as a mechanical inhibitor of iceberg calving and further demonstrate the potential for real-time detection of failure in other geophysical granular materials.