Skip to main content Accessibility help

Controls on glacier surging in Svalbard

  • Gordon S. Hamilton (a1) and Julian A. Dowdeswell (a2)


The geographical distribution of surge-type glaciers worldwide displays a remarkably non-random pattern. Surge-type glaciers tend to be concentrated in certain glacierized areas and to be completely absent in others. This observation suggests that special conditions are required for surges to occur. However, the factors controlling the spatial occurrence of surge-type behaviour are not known. To investigate this problem we performed probability statistical analysis on a sample population of 615 glaciers in Svalbard. The probability that a glacier in the sample population is surge-type is 36.4%. Within the sampled area there is a spatial variation in the concentration of surge-type glaciers. Several geometric and environmental factors associated with glaciers in the sample population were measured and tested to determine if they are related to the probability of surging. Of the geometric factors tested (length, slope, elevation, orientation and presence or absence of tributaries), only glacier length is related to surging, with surge probability increasing with increasing length. Elevated probabilities of surging were also found for glaciers associated with sedimentary subglacial rocks and sub-polar thermal regimes. The distributions of related factors were used to predict the spatial distribution of surge-type glaciers. However, in each case the individual factors were unable to reproduce the observed pattern of surge-type glacier distribution.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Controls on glacier surging in Svalbard
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Controls on glacier surging in Svalbard
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Controls on glacier surging in Svalbard
      Available formats



Hide All
Bamber, J.L. 1987. Internal reflecting horizons in Spitsbergett glaciers. Am. Glaciol., 9, 510.
Björnsson, H. and 6 others. In press. The thermal regime of subpolar glaciers mapped by multi-frequency radio-echo sounding. J. Glaciol.
Blatter, H. and Hutter, K. 1991. Polythermal conditions in Arctic glaciers. J. Glaciol., 37(126), 261269.
Clarke, G.K.C. 1976. Thermal regulation of glacier surging. J. Glaciol., 16(74), 231250.
Clarke, G.K.C. 1991. Length, width and slope influences on glacier surging. J. Glaciol., 37(126), 236246.
Clarke, G.K.C., Collins, S.G. and Thompson, D.R. 1984. Flow, thermal structure, and subglacial conditions of a surge-type glacier. can. J. Earth Sci., 21(2), 232240.
Clarke, G.K.C., Schmok, J.P. Ommanney, C.S.L. and Collins, S.G. 1986. Characteristics of surge-type glaciers. J. Geophys. Res., 91(B7), 71657180.
Dolgoushin, L.D. and Osipova, G.B. 1975. Glacier surges and the problem of their forecasting. International Association of Hydrological Sciences Publication 104 (Symposium at Moscow 1971 —Snow and Ice). 292304.
Dowdeswell, J. A., Hamilton, G.S. and Hagen, J.O. 1991. The duration of the active phase on surge-type glaciers: contrasts between Svalbard and other regions. J. Glaciol. 37(127), 388400.
Glazyrin, G. Ye. 1978. Identification of surging glaciers by morphometric characteristics. Mater. Glyatsiol. Issled. 33, 136138.
Hagen, J.O. 1992. Temperature distribution in Broggerbreen. Lovénbreen and Kongsvegen, NW Spitsbergen. In Hagen, J.O. and Jania, J. eds. Glaciological research in Svalbard — current problems. Proceedings of Field Workshop. May 1992. Svalbard. Polish Polar Station. [Abstract.], 17.
Hagen, J. O. and Sætrang, A. 1991. Radio-echo sounding of sub-polar glaciers with low-frequency redar. Polar Res., 9(1), 99107.
Hamilton, G.S. 1992. Investigations of surge-type glaciers in Svalbard. (Ph.D. thesis. University of Cambridge.)
Holmlund, p. and Eriksson, M. 1989. The cold surface layer on Storglaciären. Geogr. Ann., 71A(3-4), 241244.
Jones, A.S. 1979. The flow of ice over a till bed. J. Glaciol., 22(87), 393395.
Kamb, B. 1987. Glacier surge mechanism based on linked-cavity configuration of the basal water conduit system. J. Geophys. Res., 92(B9), 90839100.
Lefauconnier, B. and Hagen, J.O. 1991. Surging and calving glaciers in estern Svalbard. Nor. Polarinst. Medd. 116.
Liestøl, O. 1969. Glacier surges in west Spitsbergen. Can. J. Earth Sci., 6(4) Part 2, 895897.
Liestøl, O. 1993. Glaeiers of Svalbard. Norway. U.S. Geol. Surv. Prof. Pap. 1386-E. E127E151.
macheret, Yu. Ya., Bobrova, L.J. and Sankina, L.V. 1991. Ob’yemnoye gidrotermicheskoye sostoyaniye i rezhim lednikov Shpitsbergena po dannym aeroradiozondirovaniya [Volumetric hydrothermal state and regime of the Spitsbergen glaciers from airborne radio echo-sounding data]. Mater. Glyatsiol. Issled. 71, 4053.
Macheret, Yu. Ya., Moskalevsky, M. Yu. and Vasilenko, E.V. 1993. Velocity of radio waves in glaciers as an indicator of their hydrothermal state, structure and regime. J. Glaciol., 39(132), 373384.
Meier, M. F. and Post, A. 1969. What are glacier surges? Can. J. Earth Sci., 6(4), part 2, 807817.
Ødegard, R.S., Hamran, S. -E. , P.H. Etzelmüller, B. Vatne, G. and Solid, J.L. 1992. Thermal regime of a valley glacier, Erikbreen, northern Spitsbergen. Polar Res., 11(2), 6979.
Paterson, W.S.B. 1981. The physics of glaciers. Second edition. Oxford, etc., Pergamon Press.
Post, A. 1969. Distribution of surging glaciers in North America. J. Glaciol., 8(53), 229240.
Raymond, C. F. 1987. How do glaciers surge? A review. J. Geophys. Res., 92(B9), 91219134.
Robin, G. de Q. 1955. Ice movement and temperature distribution in glaciers and ice sheets. J. Glaciol., 2(18), 523532.
Röthlisherger, H. 1972. Water pressure in intra- and subglacial channels. J. Glaciol., 11(62), 177203.
Sehytt, V. 1969. Some comments on glacier surges in eastern SValbard. Can. J. Earth Sci., 6(4), Part 2, 867873.
Stuart, A. and Ord, J.K. 1987, 1991. Kendall’s advanced theory of statistics. Vols. 1 and 2. Fifth edition. London. ect., Edward Arnold.
Sturm, M. 1987. Obsevations on the distribution and characteristics of potholes on surging glaciers. J. Geophys. Res., 92(B9), 90159022.
Sturm, M. and Cosgrove, D.M. 1990. Correspondence. An unusual jökulhlaup involving potholes on Black Rapids Glacier, Alaska Range, Alaska. U.S.A. J. Glaciol., 36(122). 125126.
Thórarinsson, S. 199. Glacier surges in Iceland with special reference to the surges of Bruarjókull. Can. J. Earth Sci., 6(4), Part 2, 875882.
Weertman, J. 1969. Water lubrication mechanism of glacier surges. Can. J. Earth Sci., 6(4) Part 2, 929942.
Weidick, A., Boggild, C.E. and Kundsen, N.T. 1992. Glacier inventory and atlas of West Greenland. Gronlands Geologiske Undersogelse. Rapport 158
Wilbur, S. W. 1988. Surging versus non-surging glaciers: a comparison using morphometry and balance. (MS thesis, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed