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Flow dynamics of tidewater glaciers: a numerical modelling approach

  • Andreas Vieli (a1) (a2), Martin Funk (a2) and Heinz Blatter (a1)


The dynamics of grounded tidewater glaciers is investigated with a time-dependent numerical flow model, which solves the full equations for the stress and velocity fields and includes a water-pressure-dependent sliding law. The calving criterion implemented in the model shifts the calving front at each time-step to the position where the frontal ice thickness exceeds flotation height by a prescribed value. With this model, the linear relation between calving rate and water depth proposed on empirical grounds is qualitatively reproduced for the situation of a slowly retreating or advancing terminus, but not for situations of rapid changes. Length changes of tidewater glaciers, i.e. especially rapid changes, are dominantly controlled by the bed topography and are to a minor degree a direct reaction to a mass-balance change. Thus, accurate information on the near-terminus bed topography is required for reliable prediction of the terminus changes due to climate changes. The results also confirm the suggested cycles of slow advance and rapid retreat through a basal depression. Rapid changes in terminus positions preferably occur in places where the bed slopes upwards in the ice-flow direction.

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