• Direct observations of submarine melt and subsurface geometry at a tidewater glacier

      Sutherland, D. A.; Jackson, R. H.; Kienholtz, C.; Amundson, Jason M.; Dryer, W. P.; Duncan, D.; Eidam, E. F.; Motyka, R. J.; Nash, J. D. (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2019-07-26)
      Ice loss from the world’s glaciers and ice sheets contributes to sea level rise, influences ocean circulation, and affects ecosystem productivity. Ongoing changes in glaciers and ice sheets are driven by submarine melting and iceberg calving from tidewater glacier margins. However, predictions of glacier change largely rest on unconstrained theory for submarine melting. Here, we use repeat multibeam sonar surveys to image a subsurface tidewater glacier face and document a time-variable, three-dimensional geometry linked to melting and calving patterns. Submarine melt rates are high across the entire ice face over both seasons surveyed and increase from spring to summer. The observed melt rates are up to two orders of magnitude greater than predicted by theory, challenging current simulations of ice loss from tidewater glaciers.
    • Glacier, fjord, and seismic response to recent large calving events, Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland

      Amundson, Jason M.; Truffer, M.; Luthi, M. P.; Fahnestock, M.; West, M.; Motyka, R. J. (American Geophysical Union, 2008-11-18)
      The recent loss of Jakobshavn Isbræ’s extensive floating ice tongue has been accompanied by a change in near terminus behavior. Calving currently occurs primarily in summer from a grounded terminus, involves the detachment and overturning of several icebergs within 30 – 60 min, and produces long-lasting and far-reaching ocean waves and seismic signals, including ‘‘glacial earthquakes’’. Calving also increases near-terminus glacier velocities by 3% but does not cause episodic rapid glacier slip, thereby contradicting the originally proposed glacial earthquake mechanism. We propose that the earthquakes are instead caused by icebergs scraping the fjord bottom during calving.
    • Ice me ́lange dynamics and implications for terminus stability, Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland

      Amundson, Jason M.; Fahnestock, M.; Truffer, M.; Brown, J.; Luthi, M. P.; Motyka, R. J. (American Geophysical Union, 2010-01-21)
      We used time-lapse imagery, seismic and audio recordings, iceberg and glacier velocities, ocean wave measurements, and simple theoretical considerations to investigate the interactions between Jakobshavn Isbræ and its proglacial ice me ́lange. The me ́lange behaves as a weak, granular ice shelf whose rheology varies seasonally. Sea ice growth in winter stiffens the me ́lange matrix by binding iceberg clasts together, ultimately preventing the calving of full-glacier-thickness icebergs (the dominant style of calving) and enabling a several kilometer terminus advance. Each summer the me ́lange weakens and the terminus retreats. The me ́lange remains strong enough, however, to be largely unaffected by ocean currents (except during calving events) and to influence the timing and sequence of calving events. Furthermore, motion of the me ́lange is highly episodic: between calving events, including the entire winter, it is pushed down fjord by the advancing terminus (at 40 m d1), whereas during calving events it can move in excess of 50 103 m d1 for more than 10 min. By influencing the timing of calving events, the me ́lange contributes to the glacier’s several kilometer seasonal advance and retreat; the associated geometric changes of the terminus area affect glacier flow. Furthermore, a force balance analysis shows that large-scale calving is only possible from a terminus that is near floatation, especially in the presence of a resistive ice me ́lange. The net annual retreat of the glacier is therefore limited by its proximity to floatation, potentially providing a physical mechanism for a previously described near-floatation criterion for calving.
    • Meltwater Intrusions Reveal Mechanisms for Rapid Submarine Melt at a Tidewater Glacier

      Kienholtz, C.; Sutherland, D. A.; Jackson, R. H.; Nash, J. D.; Amundson, Jason M.; Motyka, R. J.; Winters, D.; Skyllingstad, E.; Pettit, E. C. (American Geophysical Union, 2019-11-25)
      Submarine melting has been implicated as a driver of glacier retreat and sea level rise, but to date melting has been difficult to observe and quantify. As a result, melt rates have been estimated from parameterizations that are largely unconstrained by observations, particularly at the near-vertical termini of tidewater glaciers. With standard coefficients, these melt parameterizations predict that ambient melting (the melt away from subglacial discharge outlets) is negligible compared to discharge-driven melting for typical tidewater glaciers. Here, we present new data from LeConte Glacier, Alaska, that challenges this paradigm. Using autonomous kayaks, we observe ambient meltwater intrusions that are ubiquitous within 400 m of the terminus, and we provide the first characterization of their properties, structure, and distribution. Our results suggest that ambient melt rates are substantially higher (×100) than standard theory predicts and that ambient melting is a significant part of the total submarine melt flux. We explore modifications to the prevalent melt parameterization to provide a path forward for improved modeling of ocean-glacier interactions.
    • Morainal Bank Evolution and Impact on Terminus Dynamics During a Tidewater Glacier Stillstand

      Eidam, E. F.; Sutherland, D. A.; Duncan, D.; Kienholz, Christian; Amundson, Jason M.; Motyka, R. J. (American Geophysical Union, 2020-09-25)
      Sedimentary processes are known to help facilitate tidewater glacier advance, but their role in modulating retreat is uncertain and poorly quantified. In this study we use repeated seafloor bathymetric surveys and satellite‐derived terminus positions from LeConte Glacier, Alaska, to evaluate the evolution of a morainal bank and related changes in terminus dynamics over a 17‐year period. The glacier experienced a rapid retreat between 1994 and 1999, before stabilizing at a constriction in the fjord. Since then, the glacier terminus has remained stabilized while constructing a morainal bank up to 140 m high in water depths of 240–260 m, with rates of sediment delivery of 3.3 Å~ 105 to 3.8 Å~ 105 m3 a−1. Based on repeated interannual surveys between 2016 and 2018, the moraine is a dynamic feature characterized by push ridges, evidence of active gravity flows, and bulldozing by the glacier at rates of up to meters per day. Beginning in 2016, the summertime terminus has become increasingly retracted, revealing a newly emerging basin potentially signaling the onset of renewed retreat. Between 2000 and 2016, the growing moraine reduced the exposed submarine area of the terminus by up to 22%, altered the geometry of the terminus during seasonal advances, and altered the terminus stress balance. These feedbacks for calving, melting, and ice flow likely represent mechanisms whereby moraine growth may delay glacier retreat, in a system where readvance is unlikely.
    • Rapid submarine melting driven by subglacial discharge, LeConte Glacier, Alaska

      Motyka, R. J.; Dryer, William P.; Amundson, Jason M.; Truffer, Martin; Fahnestock, Mark (American Geophysical Union, 2013-09-27)
      We show that subglacial freshwater discharge is the principal process driving high rates of submarine melting at tidewater glaciers. This buoyant discharge draws in warm seawater, entraining it in a turbulent upwelling flow along the submarine face that melts glacier ice. To capture the effects of subglacial discharge on submarine melting, we conducted 4 days of hydrographic transects during late summer 2012 at LeConte Glacier, Alaska. A major rainstorm allowed us to document the influence of large changes in subglacial discharge. We found strong submarine melt fluxes that increased from 9.1 ± 1.0 to 16.8 ± 1.3 m d1 (ice face equivalent frontal ablation) as a result of the rainstorm. With projected continued global warming and increased glacial runoff, our results highlight the direct impact that increases in subglacial discharge will have on tidewater outlet systems. These effects must be considered when modeling glacier response to future warming and increased runoff.