Dynamics of Glacier Calving at the Ungrounded Margin of Helheim Glacier, South-East Greenland

Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 10:35 AM
Tavi Murray1, Nick Selmes1, Timothy James1, Stuart Edwards2, Ian Martin2, Tim O'Farrell3, Robin A Aspey3, Meredith Nettles4 and Ian Charles Rutt1, (1)Glaciology Group, Swansea University, Swansea, United Kingdom, (2)Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom, (3)University of Sheffield, Electronic and Electrical Engineering, Sheffield, United Kingdom, (4)Columbia University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY, United States
Iceberg calving is a key mass loss mechanism for tidewater glaciers, and has been the major contributor to increased contribution to sea-level rise from several regions of Greenland, including the south-east. In summer 2013 we installed a network of 19 GNSS sensors at the margin of Helheim Glacier in south-east Greenland together with 5 oblique cameras to study iceberg calving mechanisms. The network collected data at rates up to every 7 seconds and was designed to be robust to the loss of sensor nodes as the glacier calved. Data collection covered 55 days during July through to early September 2013, and many sensors survived in locations right at the glacier front to the time of iceberg calving. The observation period included a number of significant calving events, and in consequence the glacier retreated ~1.5 km. Throughout the summer the glacier was seen to calve by a process of buoyancy-force-induced bottom-crevassing in which the ice downglacier of flexion zones rotates upwards because it is out of buoyant equilibrium. Calving then occurs back to the flexion zone. This calving process provides a compelling and complete explanation for the data collected. Tracking of the oblique camera images allows identification and characterisation of the flexion zones and their propagation downglacier. Interpretation of the GNSS data and camera data in combination allows us to place constraints on the geometry of the basal cavity that forms beneath the rotating ice downglacier of the flexion zone before calving. Theoretical considerations suggest that the process of bottom crevasse propagation is strongly enhanced when the glacier base is deeper than buoyant equilibrium. We therefore suggest that this calving mechanism will be prevalent whenever this occurs. Interactions between the fjord water and the glacier are likely to enhance calving rates and the process also has implications for mixing in the proglacial fjord.