Skip to main content Accessibility help

Iceberg properties and distributions in three Greenlandic fjords using satellite imagery

  • Daniel J. Sulak (a1), David A. Sutherland (a1), Ellyn M. Enderlin (a2), Leigh A. Stearns (a3) and Gordon S. Hamilton (a2)...


Icebergs calved from tidewater glaciers represent about one third to one half of the freshwater flux from the Greenland ice sheet to the surrounding ocean. Using multiple satellite datasets, we quantify the first fjord-wide distributions of iceberg sizes and characteristics for three fjords with distinct hydrography and geometry: Sermilik Fjord, Rink Isbræ Fjord and Kangerlussuup Sermia Fjord. We estimate average total iceberg volumes in summer in the three fjords to be 6.4 ± 1.5, 1.7 ± 0.40 and 0.16 ± 0.09 km3, respectively. Iceberg properties are influenced by glacier calving style and grounding line depth, with variations in size distribution represented by exponents of power law distributions that are −1.95 ± 0.06, −1.87 ± 0.05 and −1.62 ± 0.04, respectively. The underwater surface area of icebergs exceeds the subsurface area of glacial termini by at least one order of magnitude in all three fjords, underscoring the need to include iceberg melt in fjord freshwater budgets. Indeed, in Sermilik Fjord, we calculate summertime freshwater flux from iceberg melt of 620 m3 s−1 (±140 m3 s−1), similar in magnitude to subglacial discharge. The method developed here can be extended across Greenland to assess relationships between glacier calving, iceberg discharge and freshwater production.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Iceberg properties and distributions in three Greenlandic fjords using satellite imagery
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Iceberg properties and distributions in three Greenlandic fjords using satellite imagery
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Iceberg properties and distributions in three Greenlandic fjords using satellite imagery
      Available formats


This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Hide All
Amundson, JM and 5 others (2010) Ice mélange dynamics and implications for terminus stability, Jakobshavn Isbrse, Greenland. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 115(1), 112 (doi: 10.1029/2009JF001405)
Andres, M, Silvano, A, Straneo, F and Watts, DR (2015) Icebergs and sea ice detected with inverted echo sounders. J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., 32(5), 10421057 (doi: 10.1175/JTECH-D-14-00161.1)
Bamber, J, Van Den Broeke, M, Ettema, J, Lenaerts, J and Rignot, E (2012) Recent large increases in freshwater fluxes from Greenland into the North Atlantic. Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, 811 (doi: 10.1029/2012GL052552)
Barker, A, Sayed, M and Carrieres, T (2004) Determination of iceberg draft, mass and cross- sectional areas NRC publications archive (NPArC). In Proceedings of The Fourteenth International Offshore and Polar Engineering Conference, January
Bartholomaus, TC and 6 others (2016) Contrasts in the response of adjacent fjords and glaciers to ice-sheet surface melt in West Greenland. Ann. Glaciol (doi: 10.1017/aog.2016.19)
Box, J and Colgan, W (2013) Greenland ice sheet mass balance reconstruction. Part III: marine ice loss and total mass balance (1840–2010). J. Clim., 26, 69907002 (doi: 10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00546.1)
Canadian Ice Service (2005) Manual of standard proceedures for observing and reporting ice conditions . (Fequet, D., Ed.) (Revised 9t). Environment Canada, Ottawa, Ontario
Carroll, D and 5 others (2015) Modeling turbulent subglacial meltwater plumes: implications for Fjord-Scale Buoyancy-driven circulation. J. Phys. Oceanogr., 45, 21692185 (doi: 10.1175/JPO-D-15-0033.1)
Carroll, D and 11 others (2016) The impact of glacier geometry on meltwater plume structure and submarine melt in Greenland fjords. Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, 97399748
Cowton, T, Slater, D, Sole, A, Goldberg, D and Niewnow, P (2015) Modeling the impact of glacial runoff on fjord circulation and submarine melt rate using a new subgrid-scale parameterisization for glacial plumes. J. Geophys. Res.: Oceans, 120, 796812 (doi: 10.1002/2014JC010324.Received)
Crocker, GB (1993) Size distributions of bergy bits and growlers calved from deteriorating icebergs. Cold Reg. Sci. Technol., 22, 113119
Dowdeswell, JA and Forsberg, CF (1992) The size and frequency of icebergs and bergy bits derived from tidewater glaciers in Kongsfjorden, northwest Spitsbergen. Polar Res., 11(2), 8191
Eijpen, KJ, Warren, CR and Benn, DI (2003) Subaqueous melt rates at calving termini: a laboratory approach. Ann. Glaciol., 36, 179183
Enderlin, E, Hamilton, GS, Straneo, F and Sutherland, DA (2016) Iceberg meltwater fluxes dominate the freshwater budget in Greenland's glacial fjords. Geophys. Res. Lett., 43 (doi: 10.1002/2016GL070718)
Enderlin, EM and Hamilton, GS (2014) Estimates of iceberg submarine melting from high-resolution digital elevation models: application to Sermilik Fjord, East Greenland. J. Glaciol., 60(224), 10841092 (doi: 10.3189/2014JoG14J085)
Enderlin, EM and 5 others (2014) An improved mass budget for the Greenland ice sheet. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, 866872 (doi: 10.1002/2013GL059010.Received)
Fichefet, T and 5 others (2003) Implications of changes in freshwater flux from the Greenland ice sheet for the climate of the 21st century. Geophys. Res. Lett., 30(17), 19111915 (doi: 10.1029/2003GL017826)
Foga, S, Stearns, LA and van der Veen, CJ (2014) Using satellite remote sensing data to determine terminus and ice melange variability at Helheim Glacier, East Greenland. Marine Technol. Soc. J. (Polar Instrum. Methods) (doi: 10.4013/MTSJ.48.5.3)
Hotzel, IS and Miller, JD (1983) Icebergs: their physical dimensions and the presentation and application of measured data. Ann. Glaciol., 4, 116123
Huang, X, Zhang, L and Li, P (2007) Classification and extraction of spatial features in urban areas using high-resolution multispectral imagery. IEEE Geosci. Remote Sens. Lett., 4(2), 260264
Jackson, RH and Straneo, F (2016) Heat, salt, and freshwater budgets for a glacial fjord in Greenland. J. Phys. Oceanogr., 46, 27352768 (doi: 10.1175/JPO-D-15-0134.1)
James, TD, Murray, T, Selmes, N, Scharrer, K and Leary, MO (2014) Buoyant flexure and basal crevassing in dynamic mass loss at Helheim Glacier. Nat. Geosci., 7, 593596 (doi: 10.1038/NGEO2204)
Jenkins, A (2011) Convection-driven melting near the grounding lines of ice shelves and tidewater glaciers. J. Phys. Oceanogr., 41(12), 22792294
Joughin, I, Smith, B, Howat, IM, Scambos, T and Moon, T (2010a) Greenland flow variability from ice-sheet-wide velocity mapping. J. Glaciol., 56, 415430 (doi:
Joughin, I, Smith, B, Howat, I and Scambos, T (2010b) MEaSUREs Greenland Ice Velocity Map from InSAR Data. NASA DAAC at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO, USA (doi: 10.5067/MEASURES/CRYOSPHERE/nsidc-0478.001)
Kubat, I, Sayed, M, Savage, SB, Carrieres, T and Crocker, GB (2007) An operational iceberg deterioration model. In Proceedings of the Seventeenth International Offshore and Polar Engineering Conference, 652657
Larsen, P, Overgaard Hansen, M, Buus-hinkler, J, Krane, KH and Sønderskov, C (2015) Field tracking (GPS) of ten icebergs in eastern Baffin Bay, offshore Upernavik, northwest Greenland. J. Glaciol., 61(227), 421437 (doi: 10.3189/2015JoG14J216)
Massey, FJ (1951) The Kolmogorov-Smirnov test for goodness of fit. J. Am. Statistical Assoc., 46(253), 6878
Medrzycka, D and 6 others (2016) Calving behavior at Rink Isbræ, West Greenland, from time-lapse photos. Arct. Antarct. Alpine Res., 48(2), 263277
Moon, T, Joughin, I, Smith, B and Howat, I (2012) 21st-century evolution of Greenland outlet glacier velocities. Science, 336, 576579
Moratto, SZM, Broxton, MJ, Beyer, RA, Lundy, M and Husmann, K (2010) Ames Stereo Pipeline, NASA's Open Source Automated Stereogrammetry, 12
Motyka, RJ, Hunter, L, Echelmeyer, KA and Connor, C (2003) Submarine melting at the terminus of a temperate tidewater glacier, LeConte Glacier, Alaska, USA. Ann. Glaciol., 36(1), 5765
Murray, T and 6 others (2015) Dynamics of glacier calving at the ungrounded margin of Helheim Glacier, southeast Greenland. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 120, 964982 (doi: 10.1002/2015JF003531.Received)
Neshyba, S (1980) On the size distribution of Antarctic icebergs. Cold Reg. Sci. Technol., 1, 241248
Noh, M-J and Howat, IM (2015) Automated stereo-photogrammetric DEM generation at high latitudes: surface extraction with TIN-based search-space minimization (SETSM) validation and demonstration over glaciated regions. GISci. Remote Sens., 52(2), 198217 (doi: 10.1080/15481603.2015.1008621)
Rignot, E and 6 others (2016) Bathymetry data reveal glaciers vulnerable to ice-ocean interaction in Uummannaq and Vaigat glacial fjords, west Greenland. Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, 26672674 (doi: 10.1002/2016GL067832.Received)
Robe, RQ (1980) Iceberg drift and deterioration. In Colbeck, SC, ed. Dynamics of snow and ice masses. Academic Press, INC, New York, NY, 211259
Rosenau, R, Scheinert, M and Dietrich, R (2015) A processing system to monitor Greenland outlet glacier velocity variations at decadal and seasonal time scales utilizing the Landsat imagery. Remote Sens. Environ., 169, 119
Smith, SD and Donaldson, NR (1987) Dynamic modeling of iceberg drift using current profiles. Canadian Technical Report of Hydrography and Ocean Sciences No. 91, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, October 1987
Stern, AA, Adcroft, A and Sergienko, O (2016) The effects of Antarctic iceberg calving-size distribution in a global climate model. J. Geophys. Res.: Oceans, 121(8), 57735788
Stouffer, RJ and 6 others (2006) Investigating the causes of the response of the thermohaline circulation to past and future climate changes. J. Clim., 19(8), 13651387 (doi: 10.1175/JCLI3689.1)
Straneo, F and 6 others (2010) Rapid circulation of warm subtropical waters in a major glacial fjord in East Greenland. Nat. Geosci., 3(3), 182186 (doi: 10.1038/ngeo764)
Sutherland, DA and 5 others (2013) Atlantic water variability on the SE Greenland continental shelf and its relationship to SST and bathymetry. J. Geophys. Res.: Oceans, 118, 847855 (doi: 10.1029/2012JC008354)
Sutherland, DA and 5 others (2014a) Quantifying flow regimes in a Greenland glacial fjord using iceberg drifters. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41(23), 84118420
Sutherland, DA, Straneo, F and Pickart, RS (2014b) Characteristics and dynamics of two major Greenland glacial fjords. J. Geophys. Res.: Oceans, 119, 37673791 (doi: 10.1002/2013JC009786.Received)
Tournadre, J, Girard-Ardhuin, F and Legrésy, B (2012) Antarctic icebergs distributions, 2002–2010. J. Geophys. Res.: Oceans, 117(5), 20022010 (doi: 10.1029/2011JC007441)
Tournadre, J, Bouhier, N, Girard-Ardhuin, F and Rémy, F (2016) Antarctic icebergs distributions 1992–2014. J. Geophys. Res.: Oceans, 121, 327349 (doi: 10.1002/2015JC011178)
USGS (2016) Lansat 8 (L8) Data Users Handbook. U.S. Geological Survey, Sioux Falls, SD, USA
van den Broeke, M and 6 others (2009) Partitioning recent Greenland mass loss. Science, 326, 984986 (doi: 10.1126/science.1178176)
Velicogna, I, Sutterley, TC and Van Den Broeke, MR (2014) Regional acceleration in ice mass loss from Greenland and Antarctica using GRACE time-variable gravity data. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, 81308137 (doi: 10.1002/2014GL061052.Received)
Wadhams, P (1988) Winter observations of iceberg frequencies and sizes in the South. J. Geophys. Res., 93(C4), 35833590
Wagner, TJW and 6 others (2014) The “footloose” mechanism: iceberg decay from hydrostatic stresses. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, 55225529 (doi: 10.1002/2014GL060832.We)
Williams, R and Macdonald, M (1995) An image segmentation technique to infer the outlines of icebergs, depicted in satellite images, from their shadows and bright sunlit surfaces. In Proceedings of the Third Australian and New Zealand Conference on Intelligent Information Systems, 7681
Xu, Y, Rignot, E, Menemenlis, D and Koppes, M (2012) Numerical experiments on subaqueous melting of Greenland tidewater glaciers in response to ocean warming and enhanced subglacial discharge. Ann. Glaciol., 53(60), 229234 (doi: 10.3189/2012AoG60A139)
Yang, Q and 5 others (2016) Labrador Sea convection and Atlantic overturning circulation. Nat. Commun., 7, 17 (doi: 10.1038/ncomms10525)
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Annals of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0260-3055
  • EISSN: 1727-5644
  • URL: /core/journals/annals-of-glaciology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Sulak supplementary material
Tables S1-S2 and Figures S1-S3

 PDF (11.3 MB)
11.3 MB


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed