• 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.
    • 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.