Articles | Volume 8, issue 2
Research article
11 Apr 2014
Research article |  | 11 Apr 2014

Surge dynamics in the Nathorstbreen glacier system, Svalbard

M. Sund, T. R. Lauknes, and T. Eiken

Abstract. Nathorstbreen glacier system (NGS) recently experienced the largest surge in Svalbard since 1936, and this was examined using spatial and temporal observations from DEM differencing, time series of surface velocities from satellite synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and other sources. The upper basins with maximum accumulation during quiescence corresponded to regions of initial lowering. Initial speed-up exceeded quiescent velocities by a factor of several tens. This suggests that polythermal glacier surges are initiated in the temperate area before mass is displaced downglacier. Subsequent downglacier mass displacement coincided with areas where glacier velocity increased by a factor of 100–200 times (stage 2). After more than 5 years, the joint NGS terminus advanced abruptly into the fjord during winter, increasing velocities even more. The advance was followed by up-glacier propagation of crevasses, indicating the middle and subsequently the upper part of the glaciers reacting to the mass displacement. NGS advanced ~15 km, while another ~3 km length was lost due to calving. Surface lowering of ~50 m was observed in some up-glacier areas, and in 5 years the total glacier area increased by 20%. Maximum measured flow rates were at least 25 m d−1, 2500 times quiescent velocity, while average velocities were about 10 m d−1. The surges of Zawadzkibreen cycle with ca. 70-year periods.