Sensitivity of tidewater glaciers to submarine melting governed by plume locations

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The response of tidewater glaciers to ocean warming remains a key uncertainty in sea level rise predictions. Here we use a 3‐D numerical model to examine the response of an idealized tidewater glacier to spatial variations in submarine melt rate. While melting toward the center of the terminus causes only a localized increase in mass loss, melting near the lateral margins triggers increased calving across the width of the glacier, causing the terminus to retreat at several times the width‐averaged melt rate. This occurs because melting near the margins has a greater disruptive impact on the compressive stress arch that transfers resistance from the side walls to the body of the glacier. We suggest that the rate of terminus advance or retreat may thus be governed by the difference between ice velocity and submarine melting in the slow‐flowing zones away from the glacier center.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11219-11227
Number of pages9
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number20
Early online date28 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2019


  • Glaciers
  • Ice sheets
  • Calving
  • Submarine melting


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