Modelling the impact of submarine frontal melting and ice mélange on glacier dynamics
Abstract. Submarine melting of the calving face of tidewater glaciers and the mechanical back force applied by the ice mélange layer are two mechanisms generally proposed to explain seasonal variations at the calving front of tidewater glaciers. However, the way these processes affect the calving rate and glacier dynamics remains uncertain. In this study, we used a finite element-based model that solves the full Stokes equations to simulate the impact of these forcings on two-dimensional theoretical flow line glacier configurations. The model, which includes calving processes, suggests that frontal melting affects the position of the terminus only slightly (less than a few hundred metres) and does not affect the multiannual glacier mass balance at all. However, the ice mélange has a greater impact on the advance and retreat cycles of the glacier front (more than several kilometres) and its consequences for the mass balance are not completely negligible, stressing the need for better characterization of forcing properties. We also show that ice mélange forcing against the calving face can mechanically prevent crevasse propagation at sea level and hence prevent calving. Results also reveal different behaviours in grounded and floating glaciers: in the case of a floating extension, the strongest forcings can disrupt the glacier equilibrium by modifying its buttressing and ice flux at the grounding line.