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Frontal ablation, the combination of submarine melting and iceberg calving, changes the geometry of a glacier's terminus, influencing glacier dynamics, the fate of upwelling plumes and the distribution of submarine meltwater input into the ocean. Directly observing frontal ablation and terminus morphology below the waterline is difficult, however, limiting our understanding of these coupled ice–ocean processes. To investigate the evolution of a tidewater glacier's submarine terminus, we combine 3-D multibeam point clouds of the subsurface ice face at LeConte Glacier, Alaska, with concurrent observations of environmental conditions during three field campaigns between 2016 and 2018. We observe terminus morphology that was predominately overcut (52% in August 2016, 63% in May 2017 and 74% in September 2018), accompanied by high multibeam sonar-derived melt rates (4.84 m d−1 in 2016, 1.13 m d−1 in 2017 and 1.85 m d−1 in 2018). We find that periods of high subglacial discharge lead to localized undercut discharge outlets, but adjacent to these outlets the terminus maintains significantly overcut geometry, with an ice ramp that protrudes 75 m into the fjord in 2017 and 125 m in 2018. Our data challenge the assumption that tidewater glacier termini are largely undercut during periods of high submarine melting.
The recently-advancing Taku Glacier is excavating subglacial sediments at high rates over multi-decadal timescales. However, sediment redistribution over shorter timescales remains unquantified. We use a variety of methods to study subglacial and proglacial sediment redistribution on decadal, seasonal, and daily timescales to gain insight into sub- and proglacial landscape formation. Both excavation and deposition were observed from 2003 to 2015 (2.8 ± 0.9 m a−1 to +2.9 ± 0.9 m a−1). The observed patterns imply that a subglacial conduit has occupied the same site over the past decade. Outwash fans on the subaerial end moraine experience fluvial sediment reworking almost year-round, with net sediment gain in winter and net sediment loss in summer, and an overall mass gain between 2005 and 2015. We estimate that tens of meters of sediment still underlie the glacier terminus, sediments which can be remobilized during future activity. However, imminent retreat from the proglacial moraine will limit its sediment supply, leaving the moraine vulnerable to erosion by bordering rivers. Retreat into an over-deepened basin will leave the glacier vulnerable to increased frontal ablation and accelerating retreat.
Ice mélange has been postulated to impact glacier and fjord dynamics through a variety of mechanical and thermodynamic couplings. However, observations of these interactions are very limited. Here, we report on glaciological and oceanographic data that were collected from 2016 to 2017 at LeConte Glacier and Bay, Alaska, and serendipitously captured the formation, flow and break-up of ephemeral ice mélange. Sea ice formed overnight in mid-February. Over the subsequent week, the sea ice and icebergs were compacted by the advancing glacier terminus, after which the ice mélange flowed quasi-statically. The presence of ice mélange coincided with the lowest glacier velocities and frontal ablation rates in our record. In early April, increasing glacier runoff and the formation of a sub-ice-mélange plume began to melt and pull apart the ice mélange. The plume, outgoing tides and large calving events contributed to its break-up, which took place over a week and occurred in pulses. Unlike observations from elsewhere, the loss of ice mélange integrity did not coincide with the onset of seasonal glacier retreat. Our observations provide a challenge to ice mélange models aimed at quantifying the mechanical and thermodynamic couplings between ice mélange, glaciers and fjords.
We present a workflow to track icebergs in proglacial fjords using oblique time-lapse photos and the Lucas-Kanade optical flow algorithm. We employ the workflow at LeConte Bay, Alaska, where we ran five time-lapse cameras between April 2016 and September 2017, capturing more than 400 000 photos at frame rates of 0.5–4.0 min−1. Hourly to daily average velocity fields in map coordinates illustrate dynamic currents in the bay, with dominant downfjord velocities (exceeding 0.5 m s−1 intermittently) and several eddies. Comparisons with simultaneous Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) measurements yield best agreement for the uppermost ADCP levels (~ 12 m and above), in line with prevalent small icebergs that trace near-surface currents. Tracking results from multiple cameras compare favorably, although cameras with lower frame rates (0.5 min−1) tend to underestimate high flow speeds. Tests to determine requisite temporal and spatial image resolution confirm the importance of high image frame rates, while spatial resolution is of secondary importance. Application of our procedure to other fjords will be successful if iceberg concentrations are high enough and if the camera frame rates are sufficiently rapid (at least 1 min−1 for conditions similar to LeConte Bay).
We assess ice loss and velocity changes between 1985 and 2014 of three tidewater and five-land terminating glaciers in Godthåbsfjord (Nuup Kangerlua), Greenland. Glacier thinning accounted for 43.8 ± 0.2 km3 of ice loss, equivalent to 0.10 mm eustatic sea-level rise. An additional 3.5 ± 0.3 km3 was lost to the calving retreats of Kangiata Nunaata Sermia (KNS) and Narsap Sermia (NS), two tidewater glaciers that exhibited asynchronous behavior over the study period. KNS has retreated 22 km from its Little Ice Age (LIA) maximum (1761 AD), of which 0.8 km since 1985. KNS has stabilized in shallow water, but seasonally advects a 2 km long floating tongue. In contrast, NS began retreating from its LIA moraine in 2004–06 (0.6 km), re-stabilized, then retreated 3.3 km during 2010–14 into an over-deepened basin. Velocities at KNS ranged 5–6 km a−1, while at NS they increased from 1.5 to 5.5 km a−1 between 2004 and 2014. We present comprehensive analyses of glacier thinning, runoff, surface mass balance, ocean conditions, submarine melting, bed topography, ice mélange and conclude that the 2010–14 NS retreat was triggered by a combination of factors but primarily by an increase in submarine melting.
Application of dendrochronology and geomorphology to a recently emerged coastal area near Juneau, Alaska, has documented a Little Ice Age (LIA) sea-level transgression to 6.2 m above current sea level. The rise in relative sea level is attributed to regional subsidence and appears to have stabilized by the mid 16th century, based on a sea-cliff eroded into late-Pleistocene glaciomarine sediments. Land began emerging between A.D. 1770 and 1790, coincident with retreat of regional glaciers from their LIA maximums. This emergence has continued since then, paralleling regional glacier retreat. Total Juneau uplift since the late 18th century is estimated to be 3.2 m. The rate of downward colonization of newly emergent coastline by Sitka spruce during the 20th century closely parallels the rate of sea-level fall documented by analysis of local tide-gauge records (1.3 cm/yr). Regional and Glacier Bay LIA loading and unloading are inferred to be the primary mechanisms driving subsidence and uplift in the Juneau area. Climate change rather then regional tectonics has forced relative sea-level change over the last several hundred years.
New radiocarbon dates on charcoal incorporated in proximal airfall deposits indicate the largest late Pleistocene eruption from the Mt. Edgecumbe volcanic field in Southeast Alaska occurred ca. 11,250 ± 50 14C yr B.P. The more precise dating of the principal Edgecumbe tephra layer greatly improves its utility as a tephrochronologic marker horizon in southeastern Alaska.
Lake-calving Yakutat Glacier in southeast Alaska, USA, is undergoing rapid thinning and terminus retreat. We use a simplified glacier model to evaluate its future mass loss. In a first step we compute glacier-wide mass change with a surface mass-balance model, and add a mass loss component due to ice flux through the calving front. We then use an empirical elevation change curve to adjust for surface elevation change of the glacier and finally use a flotation criterion to account for terminus retreat due to frontal ablation. Surface mass balance is computed on a daily timescale; elevation change and retreat is adjusted on a decadal scale. We use two scenarios to simulate future mass change: (1) keeping the current (2000–10) climate and (2) forcing the model with a projected warming climate. We find that the glacier will disappear in the decade before 2110 or 2070 under constant or warming climates, respectively. For the first few decades, the glacier can maintain its current thinning rates by retreating and associated loss of high-ablating, low-elevation areas. However, once higher elevations have thinned substantially, the glacier can no longer counteract accelerated thinning by retreat and mass loss accelerates, even under constant climate conditions. We find that it would take a substantial cooling of 1.5°C to reverse the ongoing retreat. It is therefore likely that Yakutat Glacier will continue its retreat at an accelerating rate and disappear entirely.
Both lake-calving Yakutat Glacier (337 km2), Alaska, USA, and its parent icefield (810 km2) are experiencing strong thinning, and under current climate conditions will eventually disappear. Comparison of digital elevation models shows that Yakutat Glacier thinned at area-averaged rates of 4.76 ± 0.06 m w.e.a−1 (2000–07) and 3.66 ± 0.03 m w.e.a−1 (2007–10). Simultaneously, adjacent Yakutat Icefield land-terminating glaciers thinned at lower but still substantial rates (3.79 and 2.94 m w.e.a−1 respectively for the same time periods), indicating lake-calving dynamics helps drive increased mass loss. Yakutat Glacier terminates into Harlequin Lake and for over a decade sustained a ∼3 km long floating tongue, which started to disintegrate into large tabular icebergs in 2010. Such floating tongues are rarely seen on temperate tidewater glaciers. We hypothesize that this difference is likely due to the lack of submarine melting in the case of lake-calving glaciers. Floating-tongue ice losses were evaluated in terms of overall mass balance and contribution to sea-level rise. The post-Little Ice Age collapse of Yakutat Icefield was driven in part by tidewater calving retreats of adjacent glaciers, the lake-calving retreat of Yakutat Glacier, a warming climate and by the positive feedback mechanisms through surface lowering.
We use time-lapse photography, MODIS satellite imagery, ocean wave measurements and regional broadband seismic data to demonstrate that icebergs that calve from Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland, can generate ocean waves that are detectable over 150 km from their source. The waves, which are recorded seismically, have distinct spectral peaks, are not dispersive and persist for several hours. On the basis of these observations, we suggest that calving events at Jakobshavn Isbræ can stimulate seiches, or basin eigenmodes, in both Ilulissat Icefjord and Disko Bay. Our observations furthermore indicate that coastal, land-based seismometers located near calving termini (e.g. as part of the new Greenland Ice Sheet Monitoring Network (GLISN)) can aid investigations into the largely unexplored, oceanographic consequences of iceberg calving.
Following three decades of relative stability, Jakobshavn Isbræ, West Greenland, underwent dramatic thinning, retreat and speed-up starting in 1998. To assess the amount of ice loss, we analyzed 1985 aerial photos and derived a 40 m grid digital elevation model (DEM). We also obtained a 2007 40 m grid SPOT DEM covering the same region. Comparison of the two DEMs over an area of ∼4000 km2 revealed a total ice loss of 160 ± 4 km3, with 107 ± 0.2 km3 in grounded regions (0.27 mm eustatic sea-level rise) and 53 ± 4 km3 from the disintegration of the floating tongue. Comparison of the DEMs with 1997 NASA Airborne Topographic Mapper data indicates that this ice loss essentially occurred after 1997, with +0.7 ± 5.6 km3 between 1985 and 1997 and −160 ± 7 km3 between 1997 and 2007. The latter is equivalent to an average specific mass balance of −3.7 ± 0.2 m a−1 over the study area. Previously reported thickening of the main glacier during the early 1990s was accompanied by similar-magnitude thinning outside the areas of fast flow, indicating that the land-based ice continued reacting to longer-term climate forcing.
Taku Glacier, Alaska, USA, is currently in the advance stage of the tidewater glacier cycle. We investigated the near-terminus dynamics by measuring surface velocities, surface elevation changes, ice thickness and ablation. Velocities vary on sub-daily, diurnal, seasonal and interannual timescales. Flowline modeling shows that the modeled surface velocities are sensitive to changes in till yield strength and thus effective basal pressures. The glacier bed deepens in the up-glacier direction and this imposes a minimum subglacial water pressure necessary for water to drain along the bed. In a simple model we impose water-pressure gradients based on phreatic surfaces of constant slopes to simulate the winter–summer transitions. This proves sufficient to explain an observed early-season switch from compressional to block flow. Velocities also vary between years. Changing basal conditions can result in lower horizontal velocities, which decrease the ice supply to the terminus and result in temporary surface lowering. But a decrease in ice flux to the terminus must lead to ice storage further upstream, and that ice mass will eventually reach the terminus. This can explain the observed episodic nature of terminus advance.
Satellite imagery has been used to acquire seasonal terminus positions of tidewater Hubbard Glacier, Alaska, USA, from 1992 to 2006. During this 15 year time period, the width-averaged advance of the entire terminus has been ∼620 m at a mean rate of 35 m a−1. Seasonal fluctuation of the terminus ranges from 150 to 200 m on average and varies spatially. A section of the terminus, near a narrow gap where the glacier has now twice closed off 40 km long Russell Fiord, exhibited little to no mean advance during this time period but displayed seasonal fluctuations of 300–500 m. Seasonal variability in surface ice speeds and surface sea-water temperatures was also observed; both are potential forcing mechanisms for terminus fluctuations. Seasonal changes in sea-water temperature of 10–12°C, as well as seasonal changes in subglacial freshwater discharge, are inferred to influence calving and submarine melting at the terminus, driving seasonal variations. Displacements of the medial moraine separating Hubbard and Valerie Glaciers at the terminus suggest surge-like pulses of the latter, with a periodicity of several years. The timing of these pulses suggests they may influence the Hubbard terminus near Gilbert Point and have implications for future closures of Russell Fiord.
Mendenhall Glacier is a lake-calving glacier in southeastern Alaska, USA, that is experiencing substantial thinning and increasingly rapid recession. Long-term mass wastage linked to climatic trends is responsible for thinning of the lower glacier and leaving the terminus vulnerable to buoyancy-driven calving and accelerated retreat. Bedrock topography has played a major role in stabilizing the terminus between periods of rapid calving and retreat. Lake-terminating glaciers form a population distinct from both tidewater glaciers and polar ice tongues, with some similarities to both groups. Lacustrine termini experience fewer perturbations (e.g. tidal flexure, high subaqueous melt rates) and are therefore inherently more stable than tidewater termini. At Mendenhall, rapid thinning and simultaneous retreat into a deeper basin led to flotation conditions along approximately 50% of the calving front. This unstable terminus geometry lasted for approximately 2 years and culminated in large-scale calving and terminus collapse during summer 2004. Buoyancy-driven calving events and terminus break-up can result from small, rapidly applied perturbations in lake level.
Taku Glacier is one of the few glaciers in Alaska, U.S.A., that has advanced over the last century: 7 km since 1890. This advance slowed substantially during the past decade, but in summer 2001 the glacier terminus began to readvance at a rate of 30 cm d−1. The advance produced dramatic proglacial sediment deformation up to 200 m in front of the terminus. Two to three large bulges and several secondary bulges developed in the proglacial sediments as a result of glacial compression along a 1 km wide portion of the terminus. The bulge nearest the terminus was 10 m high and 65 m wide. The middle bulge (7 m high) advanced at 15 cm d−1 and the distal bulge (3 m high and 50 m wide) at 9 cm d−1. Crenulations and prominent fractures developed in the overlying vegetation layer. The frontal lobes of the bulges were steep and overlaid a shear zone, where sediments were being thrust up and over the ground surface. Ice-proximal push moraines, 1–10 m high, formed along much of the 9 km wide terminus, although deformation was minimal at some locations.
Knowledge of iceberg calving is important for understanding instabilities of tidewater glaciers and ice sheets. Since 1995 the terminus of LeConte Glacier, Alaska, U.S.A., has retreated about 2 km and the glacier has thinned approximately 120 m at its 1999 terminus position. Our focus is short-term (hours to weeks) variability of the frequency and magnitude of calving events and calving flux. Both photogrammetric and visual observations are employed in a temporal analysis over a several-week period. We combined these data with measurements of ice speed, tide level, surface water input and water-storage estimates in an attempt to better understand the calving process. Contrary to results obtained over longer time-scales on other glaciers, our results show no correlation between ice speed and the frequency of calving. However, calving events do not appear to occur randomly; often they are a response to measurable changes in other parameters within the terminus region. Caclving can often be attributed to buoyancy perturbations and possibly flexure of the nearly floating terminus. Given the multiple possibilities for buoyancy perturbations, we have found no simple relationship between any specific forcing parameter and calving at short time-scales.
Heat, fresh- and sea-water balances indicate that the late-summer rate of submarine melting at the terminus of tidewater LeConte Glacier, Alaska, U.S.A., in 2000 was about 12 m d−1 w.e., averaged over the submerged face. This is 57% of the estimated total ice loss at the terminus (calving plus melting) at this time. Submarine melting may thus provide a significant contribution to the overall ablation of a tidewater glacier. Oceanographic measurements (conductivity–temperature–depth) made 200–500m from the terminus identified an isohaline (27 ppt) and isothermal (7.2°C) layer extending from 130 m depth to the fjord floor. Capping this is a 40 m thick overflow plume, distinguished by high outflow rates, low salinity (22–25 ppt) and lower temperatures (5–6°C). Mixing models indicate that fresh water comprised about 11% of this plume; it originates mostly as subglacial discharge whose buoyancy drives convection at the terminus. Deep, warm saline waters are incorporated into the plume as it ascends, causing substantial melting of ice along the submarine face. The calving terminus undergoes seasonal changes that coincide with changes in subglacial discharge and fjord water temperatures, and we suggest that these fluctuations in terminus position are directly related to changes in submarine melting.
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