A model for tidewater glacier undercutting by submarine melting

Donald Alexander Slater, P. W. Nienow, D. N. Goldberg, T. R. Cowton, A. J. Sole

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Dynamic change at the marine-terminating margins of the Greenland Ice Sheet may be initiated by the ocean, particularly where subglacial runoff drives vigorous ice-marginal plumes and rapid submarine melting. Here we model submarine melt-driven undercutting of tidewater glacier termini, simulating a process which is key to understanding ice-ocean coupling. Where runoff emerges from broad subglacial channels we find that undercutting has only a weak impact on local submarine melt rate, but increases total ablation by submarine melting due to the larger submerged ice surface area. Thus the impact of melting is determined not only by the melt rate magnitude but also by the slope of the ice-ocean interface. We suggest that the most severe undercutting occurs at the maximum height in the fjord reached by the plume, likely promoting calving of ice above. It remains unclear however whether undercutting proceeds sufficiently rapidly to influence calving at Greenland's fastest-flowing glaciers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2360-2368
Number of pages9
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number5
Early online date14 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2017


  • Submarine melting
  • Calving
  • Undercutting
  • Ice-ocean interaction
  • Greenland Ice Sheet
  • Tidewater glacier


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