Articles | Volume 11, issue 1
Research article
16 Feb 2017
Research article |  | 16 Feb 2017

Frontal destabilization of Stonebreen, Edgeøya, Svalbard

Tazio Strozzi, Andreas Kääb, and Thomas Schellenberger

Abstract. In consideration of the strong atmospheric warming that has been observed since the 1990s in polar regions there is a need to quantify mass loss of Arctic ice caps and glaciers and their contribution to sea level rise. In polar regions a large part of glacier ablation is through calving of tidewater glaciers driven by ice velocities and their variations. The Svalbard region is characterized by glaciers with rapid dynamic fluctuations of different types, including irreversible adjustments of calving fronts to a changing mass balance and reversible, surge-type activities. For large areas, however, we do not have much past and current information on glacier dynamic fluctuations. Recently, through frequent monitoring based on repeat optical and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite data, a number of zones of velocity increases have been observed at formerly slow-flowing calving fronts on Svalbard. Here we present the dynamic evolution of the southern lobe of Stonebreen on Edgeøya. We observe a slowly steady retreat of the glacier front from 1971 until 2011, followed by a strong increase in ice surface velocity along with a decrease of volume and frontal extension since 2012. The considerable losses in ice thickness could have made the tide-water calving glacier, which is grounded below sea level some 6 km inland from the 2014 front, more sensitive to surface meltwater reaching its bed and/or warm ocean water increasing frontal ablation with subsequent strong multi-annual ice-flow acceleration.

Short summary
The strong atmospheric warming observed since the 1990s in polar regions requires quantifying the contribution to sea level rise of glaciers and ice caps, but for large areas we do not have much information on ice dynamic fluctuations. The recent increase in satellite data opens up new possibilities to monitor ice flow. We observed over Stonebreen on Edgeøya (Svalbard) a strong increase since 2012 in ice surface velocity along with a decrease in volume and an advance in frontal extension.