Skip to main content Accessibility help

Modelling intra-annual dynamics of a major marine-terminating Arctic glacier

  • Sam Pimentel (a1) (a2), Gwenn E. Flowers (a1), Martin J. Sharp (a3), Bradley Danielson (a3), Luke Copland (a4), Wesley Van Wychen (a4), Angus Duncan (a3) and Jeffrey L. Kavanaugh (a3)...


Significant intra-annual variability in flow rates of tidewater-terminating Arctic glaciers has been observed in recent years. These changes may result from oceanic and/or atmospheric forcing through (1) perturbations at the terminus, such as enhanced submarine melt and changes in sea-ice buttressing, or (2) increased surface melt, in response to atmospheric warming, reaching the bed and promoting glacier slip. We examine the influence of these processes on Belcher Glacier, a large fast-flowing tidewater outlet of the Devon Island ice cap in the Canadian Arctic. A hydrologically-coupled higher-order ice flow model is used to estimate changes in glacier flow speed as a result of changes in sea-ice buttressing and hydrologically-driven melt-season dynamics. Daily run-off from five sub-catchments over the 2008 and 2009 melt seasons provides meltwater forcing for the model simulations. Model results are compared with remotely-sensed and in situ ice-surface velocity measurements. Sea-ice effects are found to have a minor influence on glacier flow speed relative to that of meltwater drainage, which is clearly implicated in short-term velocity variations during the melt season. We find that threshold drainage is essential in determining the timing of these short-lived accelerations.

  • 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.

      Modelling intra-annual dynamics of a major marine-terminating Arctic glacier
      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.

      Modelling intra-annual dynamics of a major marine-terminating Arctic glacier
      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.

      Modelling intra-annual dynamics of a major marine-terminating Arctic glacier
      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, Fahnestock, M, Truffer, M, Brown, J and Lüthi, MP (2010) Ice mélange dynamics and implications for terminus stability, Jakobshavn Iisbræ, Greenland. J. Geophys. Res., 115, F01005, doi: 10.1029/2009JF001405
Andrews, LC and 7 others (2014) Direct observations of evolving subglacial drainage beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet. Nature, 514, 8083, doi: 10.1038/nature13796
Bartholomew, I and 5 others (2010) Seasonal evolution of subglacial drainage and acceleration in a Greenland outlet glacier. Nat. Geosci., 3, 408411, doi: 10.1038/ngeo863
Beaird, N, Straneo, F and Jenkins, W (2015) Spreading of Greenland meltwaters in the ocean revealed by noble gases. Geophys. Res. Lett., 42, 77057713, doi: 10.1002/2015GL065003
Beaud, F, Flowers, GE and Pimentel, S (2014) Seasonal-scale abrasion and quarrying patterns from a two-dimensional ice-flow model coupled to distributed and channelized subglacial drainage. Geomorphology, 219, 176191, doi: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2014.04.036
Bingham, RG, Nienow, PW and Sharp, MJ (2003) Intra-annual and intra-seasonal flow dynamics of a high Arctic polythermal valley glacier. Ann. Glaciol., 37, 181188
Bingham, RG, Hubbard, AL, Nienow, PW and Sharp, MJ (2008) An investigation into the mechanisms controlling seasonal speedup events at a high Arctic glacier. J. Geophys. Res., 113, F02006, doi: 10.1029/2007JF000832
Blatter, H (1995) Velocity and stress fields in grounded glaciers: a simple algorithm for including deviatoric stress gradients. J. Glaciol., 41, 333344
Boon, S and Sharp, MJ (2003) The role of hydrologically-driven ice fracture in drainage system evolution on an Arctic glacier. Geophys. Res. Lett., 30, 1916, doi: 10.1029/2003GL018034
Boon, S, Burgess, DO, Koerner, RM and Sharp, MJ (2010) Forty-seven years of research on the Devon island Ice Cap, Arctic Canada. Arctic, 63, 1329
Brunt, KM and MacAyeal, DR (2014) Tidal modulation of ice-shelf flow: a viscous model of the Ross Ice shelf. J. Glaciol., 60, 500508, doi: 10.3189/2014JoG13J203
Burgess, DO, Sharp, MJ, Mair, DWF, Dowdeswell, JA and Benham, TJ (2005) Flow dynamics and iceberg calving rates of Devon Ice Cap, Nunavut, Canada. J. Glaciol., 51, 219230
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, doi: 10.1002/2016GL070170
Cuffey, K and Paterson, WSB (2010) The physics of glaciers, 4th edn. Elsevier, Amsterdam
Danielson, B and Sharp, M (2013) Development and application of a time-lapse photograph analysis method to investigate the link between tidewater glacier flow variations and supra glacial lake drainage events. J. Glaciol., 59, 287302
Dowdeswell, JA, Benham, TJ, Gorman, MR and Burgess, D (2004) Form and flow of the Devon island ice cap, Canadian Arctic. J. Geophys. Res., 109, F02002, doi: 10.1029/2003JF000095
Duncan, A (2011) Spatial and temporal variations of the surface energy balance and ablation on the Belcher Glacier, (Master's thesis, University of Alberta, Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada)
Enderlin, EM, Howatt, IM and Vieli, A (2013) High sensitivity of tidewater outlet glacier dynamics to shape. Cryosphere, 7, 10071015, doi: 10.5194/tc-7-1007-2013
Enderlin, EM and 5 others (2014) An improved mass budget for the Greenland ice sheet. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, 866872, doi: 10.1002/2013GL059010
Flowers, GE (2008) Subglacial modulation of the hydrograph from glacierized basins. Hydrol. Process., 22, 39033918, doi: 10.1002/hyp.7095
Flowers, GE (2015) Modelling water flow under glaciers and ice sheets. Proc. Roy. Soc. A, 471, 20140907, doi: 10.1098/rspa.2014.0907
Flowers, GE, Roux, N, Pimentel, S and Schoof, CG (2011) Present dynamics and future prognosis of a slowly surging glacier. Cryosphere, 5, 299313, doi: 10.5194/tc-5-299-2011
Fried, MJ and 8 others (2015) Distributed subglacial discharge drives significant submarine melt at a Greenland tidewater glacier. Geophys. Res. Lett., 42, 93289336, doi: 10.1002/2015GL065806
Gagliardini, O, Cohen, D, Raback, P and Zwinger, T (2007) Finite-element modeling of subglacial cavities and related friction law. J. Geophys. Res., 112, F02027, doi: 10.1029/2006JF000576
Gardner, AS and Sharp, MJ (2009) Sensitivity of net mass balance estimates to near-surface temperature lapse rates when employing the degree day method to estimate glacier melt. Ann. Glaciol., 50, 8086
Harig, C and Simons, FJ (2016) Ice mass loss in Greenland, the Gulf of Alaska, and the Canadian archipelago: seasonal cycles and decadal trends. Geophys. Res. Lett., 43, 31503159, doi: 10.1002/2016GL067759
Herdes, E, Copland, L, Danielson, B and Sharp, M (2012) Relationships between iceberg plumes and sea-ice conditions on northeast Devon Ice Cap, Nunavut, Canada. Ann. Glaciol., 53, 19, doi: 10.3189/2012AoG60A163
Holland, DM, Thomas, RH, Young, BD and Ribergaard, MH (2008) Acceleration of Jakobshavn Isbrae triggered by warm subsurface ocean waters. Nat. Geosci., 1, 659664
Howat, IM, Box, JE, Ahn, Y, Herrington, A and McFadden, EM (2010) Seasonal variability in the dynamics of marine terminating outlet glaciers in Greenland. J. Glaciol., 56, 601613
Iken, A (1981) The effect of subglacial water pressure on the sliding velocity of a glacier in an idealized numerical model. J. Glaciol., 27, 407422
Joughin, I and 5 others (2008) Seasonal speedup along the western flank of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Science, 320, 781783
Joughin, I and 9 others (2013) Influence of ice-sheet geometry and supraglacial lakes on seasonal ice-flow variability. Cryosphere, 7, 11851192
Kavanaugh, JL, Moore, PL, Dow, CF and Sanders, JW (2010) Using pressure pulse seismology to examine basal criticality and the influence of sticky spots on glacial flow. J. Geophys. Res., 115, 21562202, doi: 10.1029/2010JF001666
Korona, J, Berthier, E, Bernard, M, Rémy, F and Thouvenot, E (2009) SPIRIT. SPOT 5 stereoscopic survey of polar ice: reference images and topographies during the fourth International Polar Year (2007-2009). ISPRS J. Photogramm. Remote Sens., 64, 204212
Krug, J, Durand, G, Gagliardini, O and Weiss, J (2015) Modelling the impact of submarine frontal melting and ice mélange on glacier dynamics. Cryosphere, 9, 9891003, doi: 10.5194/tc-9-989-2015
Moon, T, Joughin, I and Smith, B (2015) Seasonal to multiyear variability of glacier surface velocity, terminus position, and sea ice/ice mélange in northwest Greenland. J. Geophys. Res., 120, doi: 10.1002/2015JF003494
Mortensen, J, Lennert, K, Bendtsen, J and Rysgaard, S (2011) Heat sources for glacial melt in a sub-Arctic fjord (Godthåbsfjord) in contact with the Greenland Ice Sheet. J. Geophys. Res., 116, C01013, doi: 10.1029/2010JC006528
Müller, F and Iken, A (1973) Velocity fluctuations and water regime of Arctic valley glaciers. Int. Assoc. Sci. Hydrol., 95, 165182, Symposium on the Hydrology of glaciers: Water within glacers II
Murray, T and 10 others (2010) Ocean regulation hypothesis for glacier dynamics in southeast Greenland and implications for ice sheet mass changes. J. Geophys. Res., 115, F03026, doi: 10.1029/2009JF001522
Murray, T and 14 others (2015) Extensive retreat of Greenland tidewater glaciers, 2000–2010. Arct. Antarct. Alp. Res., 47, 427447
Nick, FM, Vieli, A, Howat, IM and Joughin, I (2009) Large-scale changes in Greenland outlet glacier dynamics triggered at the terminus. Nat. Geosci., 2, 110114, doi: 10.1038/ngeo394
Nick, FM, van der Veen, CJ, Vieli, A and Benn, DI (2010) A physically based calving model applied to marine outlet glaciers and implications for the glacier dynamics. J. Glaciol., 56, 781794
O'Leary, M and Christoffersen, P (2013) Calving on tidewater glaciers amplified by submarine frontal melting. Cryosphere, 7, 119128, doi: 10.5194/tc-7-119-2013
O'Neel, S, Echelmeyer, KA and Motyka, RJ (2001) Short-term flow dynamics of a retreating tidewater glacier: LeConte Glacier, Alaska, U.S.A. J. Glaciol., 47, 567578
Palmer, S, Shepherd, A, Nienow, P and Joughin, I (2011) Seasonal speedup of the Greenland Ice Sheet linked to routing of surface water. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., doi: 10.1016/j.epsl.2010.12.037
Paterson, WSB (1976) Temperatures in the Devon Island ice cap, Arctic Canada. J. Glaciol., 16, 277
Pattyn, F (2002) Transient glacier response with a higher-order numerical ice-flow model. J. Glaciol., 48, 467477
Pattyn, F and 20 others (2008) Benchmark experiments for higher-order and full stokes ice sheet models (ISMIP-HOM). Cryosphere, 2, 95108
Pimentel, S and Flowers, GE (2011) A numerical study of hydrologically driven glacier dynamics and subglacial flooding. Proc. R. Soc. A, 467, 537558, doi: 10.1098/rspa.2010.0211
Pimentel, S, Flowers, GE and Schoof, CG (2010) A hydrologically coupled higher-order flow-band model of ice dynamics with a Coulomb friction sliding law. J. Geophys. Res., 115, F04023, doi: 10.1029/2009JF001621
Schoof, C (2005) The effect of cavitation on glacier sliding. Proc. R. Soc. London, Ser. A, 461, 609627
Schoof, C (2010) Ice-sheet acceleration driven by melt supply variability. Nature, 468, 803806, doi: 10.1038/nature09618
Schoof, C and Hindmarsh, RCA (2010) Thin-film flows with wall slip: an asymptotic analysis of higher order glacier flow models. Quart. J. Mech. Appl. Math., 63(1), 73114, doi: 10.1093/qjmam/hbp025
Schoof, C, Rada, CA, Wilson, NJ, Flowers, GE and Haseloff, M (2014) Oscillatory subglacial drainage in the absence of surface melt. Cryosphere, 8, 959976, doi: 10.5194/tc-8-959-2014
Shepherd, A and 5 others (2009) Greenland ice sheet motion coupled with daily melting in late summer. Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L01501, doi: 10.1029/2008GL035758
Straneo, F and 8 others (2012) Characteristics of ocean waters reaching Greenland's glaciers. Ann. Glaciol., 53, 202210
Sundal, AV and 5 others (2011) Melt-induced speed-up of Greenland ice sheet offset by efficient subglacial drainage. Nature, 469, 521524, doi: 10.1038/nature09740
Van Wychen, W and 5 others (2012) Spatial and temporal variation of ice motion and ice flux from Devon Ice Cap, Nunavut, Canada. J. Glaciol., 58, 657664
Walter, JI and 6 others (2012) Oceanic mechanical forcing of a marine-terminating Greenland glacier. Ann. Glaciol., 53, doi: 10.3189/2012AoG60A083
Walters, RA and Dunlap, WW (1987) Analysis of time series of glacier speed: Columbia Glacier, Alaska. J. Geophys. Res., 92, 89698975
Wyatt, FR and Sharp, MJ (2015) Linking surface hydrology to flow regimes and patterns of velocity variability on Deven Ice Cap, Nunavut. J. Glaciol., 61, 387399, doi: 10.3189/2015JoG14J109


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Modelling intra-annual dynamics of a major marine-terminating Arctic glacier

  • Sam Pimentel (a1) (a2), Gwenn E. Flowers (a1), Martin J. Sharp (a3), Bradley Danielson (a3), Luke Copland (a4), Wesley Van Wychen (a4), Angus Duncan (a3) and Jeffrey L. Kavanaugh (a3)...


Altmetric attention score

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.