Submarine melting of tidewater glaciers is proposed as a trigger for their recent thinning, acceleration and retreat. We estimate spring submarine melt rates (SMRs) of Kangiata Nunaata Sermia in southwest Greenland, from 2012 to 2014, by examining changes in along-fjord freeboard and velocity of the seasonal floating ice tongue. Estimated SMRs vary spatially and temporally near the grounding line, with mean rates of 1.3 ± 0.6, 0.8 ± 0.3 and 1.0 ± 0.4 m d−1 across the tongue in 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively. Higher melt rates correspond with locations of emerging subglacial plumes and terminus calving activity observed during the melt season using time-lapse camera imagery. Modelling of subglacial flow paths suggests a dynamic system capable of rapid re-routing of subglacial discharge both within and between melt seasons. Our results provide an empirically-derived link between the presence of subglacial discharge plumes and areas of high spring submarine melting and calving along glacier termini.