Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
Research article
 | Highlight paper
06 May 2014
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 06 May 2014

Modelling environmental influences on calving at Helheim Glacier in eastern Greenland

S. Cook, I. C. Rutt, T. Murray, A. Luckman, T. Zwinger, N. Selmes, A. Goldsack, and T. D. James

Abstract. Calving is an important mass-loss process for many glaciers worldwide, and has been assumed to respond to a variety of environmental influences. We present a grounded, flowline tidewater glacier model using a physically-based calving mechanism, applied to Helheim Glacier, eastern Greenland. By qualitatively examining both modelled size and frequency of calving events, and the subsequent dynamic response, the model is found to realistically reproduce key aspects of observed calving behaviour. Experiments explore four environmental variables which have been suggested to affect calving rates: water depth in crevasses, basal water pressure, undercutting of the calving face by submarine melt and backstress from ice mélange. Of the four variables, only crevasse water depth and basal water pressure were found to have a significant effect on terminus behaviour when applied at a realistic magnitude. These results are in contrast to previous modelling studies, which have suggested that ocean temperatures could strongly influence the calving front. The results raise the possibility that Greenland outlet glaciers could respond to the recent trend of increased surface melt observed in Greenland more strongly than previously thought, as surface ablation can strongly affect water depth in crevasses and water pressure at the glacier bed.