Skip to main content Accessibility help

Monitoring Greenland ice sheet buoyancy-driven calving discharge using glacial earthquakes

  • Amandine Sergeant (a1) (a2), Anne Mangeney (a2) (a3), Vladislav A. Yastrebov (a4), Fabian Walter (a1), Jean-Paul Montagner (a2), Olivier Castelnau (a5), Eléonore Stutzmann (a2), Pauline Bonnet (a2) (a4) (a5), Velotioana Jean-Luc Ralaiarisoa (a2), Suzanne Bevan (a6) and Adrian Luckman (a6)...

Since the 2000s, Greenland ice sheet mass loss has been accelerating, followed by increasing numbers of glacial earthquakes (GEs) at near-grounded glaciers. GEs are caused by calving of km-scale icebergs which capsize against the terminus. Seismic record inversion allows a reconstruction of the history of GE sources which captures capsize dynamics through iceberg-to-terminus contact. When compared with a catalog of contact forces from an iceberg capsize model, seismic force history accurately computes calving volumes while the earthquake magnitude fails to uniquely characterize iceberg size, giving errors up to 1 km3. Calving determined from GEs recorded ateight glaciers in 1993–2013 accounts for up to 21% of the associated discharge and 6% of the Greenland mass loss. The proportion of discharge attributed to capsizing calving may be underestimated by at least 10% as numerous events could not be identified by standard seismic detections (Olsen and Nettles, 2018). While calving production tends to stabilize in East Greenland, Western glaciers have released more and larger icebergs since 2010 and have become major contributors to Greenland dynamic discharge. Production of GEs and calving behavior are controlled by glacier geometry with bigger icebergs being produced when the terminus advances in deepening water. We illustrate how GEs can help in partitioning and monitoring Greenland mass loss and characterizing capsize dynamics.

  • 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.

      Monitoring Greenland ice sheet buoyancy-driven calving discharge using glacial earthquakes
      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.

      Monitoring Greenland ice sheet buoyancy-driven calving discharge using glacial earthquakes
      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.

      Monitoring Greenland ice sheet buoyancy-driven calving discharge using glacial earthquakes
      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

Present address: Institut de Physique de Rennes, Université Rennes, CNRS UMR 6251, Rennes, France.

Hide All
Amundson, J and 5 others (2008) Glacier, fjord, and seismic response to recent large calving events, Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland. Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L22501
Amundson, JM and 5 others (2010) Ice mélange dynamics and implications for terminus stability, Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf. (2003–2012), 115, F01005
Amundson, JM, Burton, JC and Correa-Legisos, S (2012a) Impact of hydrodynamics on seismic signals generated by iceberg collisions. Ann. Glaciol., 53(60), 106112
Amundson, JM and 5 others (2012b) Observing calving-generated ocean waves with coastal broadband seismometers, Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland. Ann. Glaciol., 53(60), 7984
Anderson, K and 10 others (2009) The Greenland ice sheet monitoring network (glisn). In AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts, volume 1, 0032
Aster, R and Winberry, J (2017) Glacial seismology. Rep. Prog. Phys., 80(12), 126801
Bartholomaus, T, Larsen, C, O'Neel, S and West, M (2012) Calving seismicity from iceberg–sea surface interactions. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf. (2003–2012), 117(F4), F04029
Benn, DI and Åström, JA (2018) Calving glaciers and ice shelves. Adv. Phys.: X, 3(1), 1513819
Benn, DI, Warren, CR and Mottram, RH (2007) Calving processes and the dynamics of calving glaciers. Earth-Sci. Rev., 82(3), 143179
Benn, DI and 7 others (2017a) Melt-under-cutting and buoyancy-driven calving from tidewater glaciers: new insights from discrete element and continuum model simulations. J. Glaciol., 63(240), 691702
Benn, DI, Cowton, T, Todd, J and Luckman, A (2017b) Glacier calving in Greenland. Curr. Clim. Change. Rep., 3(4), 282290
Bevan, S, Luckman, A and Murray, T (2012) Glacier dynamics over the last quarter of a century at helheim, kangerdlugssuaq and 14 other major Greenland outlet glaciers. Cryosphere, 6(5), 923937
Bindschadler, RA, King, MA, Alley, RB, Anandakrishnan, S and Padman, L (2003) Tidally controlled stick-slip discharge of a west Antarctic ice. Science, 301(5636), 10871089
Bonnet, P and 7 others (2018) Mechanical modelling of iceberg capsize constrained by seismic inversion. In Polar 2018, Open Science Conference
Carr, JR, Vieli, A and Stokes, C (2013) Influence of sea ice decline, atmospheric warming, and glacier width on marine-terminating outlet glacier behavior in Northwest Greenland at seasonal to interannual timescales. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 118(3), 12101226
Ekström, G (2006) Global detection and location of seismic sources by using surface waves. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am., 96(4A), 12011212
Ekström, G, Nettles, M and Abers, GA (2003) Glacial earthquakes. Science, 302(5645), 622624
Enderlin, E, Howat, I and Vieli, A (2013) High sensitivity of tidewater outlet glacier dynamics to shape. Cryosphere, 7(3), 10071015
Enderlin, EM and 5 others (2014) An improved mass budget for the Greenland ice sheet. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41(3), 866872
Enderlin, EM, Hamilton, GS, Straneo, F and Sutherland, DA (2016) Iceberg meltwater fluxes dominate the freshwater budget in Greenland's iceberg-congested glacial fjords. Geophys. Res. Lett., 43(21), 11287
Felikson, D and 10 others (2017) Inland thinning on the Greenland ice sheet controlled by outlet glacier geometry. Nat. Geosci., 10(5), 366
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), 2003
Griggs, J and 10 others (2012) A new bed elevation dataset for Greenland. Cryos. Discuss, 6, 48294860
Hilber, HM, Hughes, TJ and Taylor, RL (1977) Improved numerical dissipation for time integration algorithms in structural dynamics. Earthq. Eng. Struct. Dyn., 5(3), 283292
Holland, DM, Thomas, RH, De Young, B, Ribergaard, MH and Lyberth, B (2008) Acceleration of Jakobshavn Isbrae triggered by warm subsurface ocean waters. Nat. Geosci., 1(10), 659664
Holland, DM and 10 others (2016) An intensive observation of calving at helheim glacier, East Greenland. Oceanography, 29(4), 4661
Howat, IM and Eddy, A (2011) Multi-decadal retreat of Greenland's marine-terminating glaciers. J. Glaciol., 57(203), 389
Howat, IM, Joughin, I, Tulaczyk, S and Gogineni, S (2005) Rapid retreat and acceleration of helheim glacier, East Greenland. Geophys. Res. Lett., 32(22), L22502
Howat, IM, Joughin, I and Scambos, TA (2007) Rapid changes in ice discharge from Greenland outlet glaciers. Science, 315(5818), 15591561
Howat, IM, Joughin, I, Fahnestock, M, Smith, BE and Scambos, TA (2008) Synchronous retreat and acceleration of Southeast Greenland outlet glaciers 2000–06: ice dynamics and coupling to climate. J. Glaciol., 54(187), 646660
Howat, IM and 5 others (2011) Mass balance of Greenland's three largest outlet glaciers, 2000–2010. Geophys. Res. Lett., 38(12)
James, TD, Murray, T, Selmes, N, Scharrer, K and OLeary, M (2014) Buoyant flexure and basal crevassing in dynamic mass loss at helheim glacier. Nat. Geosci., 7(8), 593596
Joughin, I, Abdalati, W and Fahnestock, M (2004) Large fluctuations in speed on Greenland's Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier. Nature, 432(7017), 608610
Joughin, I and 8 others (2008a) Ice-front variation and tidewater behavior on helheim and kangerdlugssuaq glaciers, Greenland. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf. (2003–2012), 113(F1), F01004
Joughin, I and 7 others (2008b) Continued evolution of Jakobshavn Isbrae following its rapid speedup. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 113(F4), F04006
Joughin, I, Smith, BE, Howat, IM, Scambos, T and Moon, T (2010) Greenland flow variability from ice-sheet-wide velocity mapping. J. Glaciol., 56(197), 415430
Joughin, I and 6 others (2012) Seasonal to decadal scale variations in the surface velocity of Jakobshavn Isbrae, Greenland: Observation and model-based analysis. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 117(F2), F02030
Joughin, I, Smith, BE, Shean, DE and Floricioiu, D (2014) Brief communication: Further summer speedup of Jakobshavn Isbræ. Cryosphere, 8(1), 209214
Kehrl, L, Joughin, I, Shean, D, Floricioiu, D and Krieger, L (2017) Seasonal and interannual variabilities in terminus position, glacier velocity, and surface elevation at helheim and kangerlussuaq glaciers from 2008 to 2016. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 122(9), 16351652
Khan, SA and 10 others (2014) Sustained mass loss of the Northeast Greenland ice sheet triggered by regional warming. Nat. Clim. Chang., 4(4), 292
MacAyeal, DR, Scambos, TA, Hulbe, CL and Fahnestock, MA (2003) Catastrophic ice-shelf break-up by an ice-shelf-fragment-capsize mechanism. J. Glaciol., 49(164), 2236
McFadden, EM, Howat, IM, Joughin, I, Smith, BE and Ahn, Y (2011) Changes in the dynamics of marine terminating outlet glaciers in West Greenland (2000–2009). J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 116(F2), F02022
Meier, M and Post, A (1987) Fast tidewater glaciers. J. Geophys. Res.: Solid Earth, 92(B9), 90519058
Moon, T and Joughin, I (2008) Changes in ice front position on Greenland's outlet glaciers from 1992 to 2007. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf. (2003–2012), 113(F2), F02022
Moon, T, Joughin, I, Smith, B and Howat, I (2012) 21st-century evolution of Greenland outlet glacier velocities. Science, 336(6081), 576578
Moon, T and 6 others (2014) Distinct patterns of seasonal Greenland glacier velocity. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41(20), 72097216
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.: Earth Surf., 120(5), 818833
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.: Earth Surf. (2003–2012), 115(F3), F03026
Murray, T and 10 others (2015a) Reverse glacier motion during iceberg calving and the cause of glacial earthquakes. Science, 349, 305308
Murray, T and 10 others (2015b) Extensive retreat of Greenland tidewater glaciers, 2000–2010. Arct. Antarct. Alp. Res., 47(3), 427447
Murray, T and 9 others (2015c) Dynamics of glacier calving at the ungrounded margin of helheim glacier, Southeast Greenland. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 120(6), 964982
Nettles, M and Ekström, G (2010) Glacial earthquakes in Greenland and Antarctica. Annu. Rev. Earth. Planet. Sci., 38, 467491
Nettles, M and 10 others (2008) Step-wise changes in glacier flow speed coincide with calving and glacial earthquakes at helheim glacier, Greenland. Geophys. Res. Lett., 35(24), L24503
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(2), 110114
Olsen, KG and Nettles, M (2017) Patterns in glacial-earthquake activity around Greenland, 2011–13. J. Glaciol., 63(242), 10771089
Olsen, K and Nettles, M (2018) Analysis of regional seismic data reveals dominance of buoyancy-driven calving at Greenland glaciers. In AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts
Podolskiy, EA and Walter, F (2016) Cryoseismology. Rev. Geophys., 54(4), 708758. (doi: 10.1002/2016RG000526)
Pratt, MJ, Winberry, JP, Wiens, DA, Anandakrishnan, S and Alley, RB (2014) Seismic and geodetic evidence for grounding-line control of Whillans ice stream stick-slip events. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 119(2), 333348
Reeh, N (1968) On the calving of ice from floating glaciers and ice shelves. J. Glaciol., 7, 215232
Rignot, E and Kanagaratnam, P (2006) Changes in the velocity structure of the Greenland ice sheet. Science, 311(5763), 986990
Rignot, E and 5 others (2004) Accelerated ice discharge from the Antarctic peninsula following the collapse of larsen b ice shelf. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31(18), L18401
Rignot, E, Velicogna, I, van den Broeke, MR, Monaghan, A and Lenaerts, JT (2011) Acceleration of the contribution of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to sea level rise. Geophys. Res. Lett., 38(5), L05503
Rignot, E, Mouginot, J, Larsen, CF, Gim, Y and Kirchner, D (2013) Icebridge wise l2 geolocated ice thickness and surface elevation. National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder Colorado University
Rignot, E, Fenty, I, Xu, Y, Cai, C and Kemp, C (2015) Undercutting of marine-terminating glaciers in West Greenland. Geophys. Res. Lett., 42(14), 59095917
Ritz, C and 5 others (2015) Potential sea-level rise from antarctic ice-sheet instability constrained by observations. Nature, 528(7580), 115
Rosenau, R, Schwalbe, E, Maas, HG, Baessler, M and Dietrich, R (2013) Grounding line migration and high-resolution calving dynamics of Jakobshavn Isbræ, West Greenland. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 118(2), 382395
Sergeant, A and 6 others (2016) Complex force history of a calving-generated glacial earthquake derived from broadband seismic inversion. Geophys. Res. Lett., 43(3), 10551065
Sergeant, A and 5 others (2018) Numerical modeling of iceberg capsizing responsible for glacial earthquakes. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth surf., 123, 30133033
Shepherd, A and 10 others (2012) A reconciled estimate of ice-sheet mass balance. Science, 338(6111), 11831189
Stearns, LA and Hamilton, GS (2007) Rapid volume loss from two East Greenland outlet glaciers quantified using repeat stereo satellite imagery. Geophys. Res. Lett., 34(5), L05503
Stern, A, 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
Straneo, F and 7 others (2010) Rapid circulation of warm subtropical waters in a major glacial fjord in East Greenland. Nat. Geosci., 3(3), 182186
Sulak, DJ, Sutherland, DA, Enderlin, EM, Stearns, LA and Hamilton, GS (2017) Iceberg properties and distributions in three Greenlandic fjords using satellite imagery. Ann. Glaciol., 58(74), 92106
Tsai, VC and Ekström, G (2007) Analysis of glacial earthquakes. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf. (2003–2012), 112, F03S22
Tsai, VC, Rice, JR and Fahnestock, M (2008) Possible mechanisms for glacial earthquakes. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf. (2003–2012), 113(F03014)
Van den Broeke, M and 8 others (2009) Partitioning recent Greenland mass loss. science, 326(5955), 984986
Van den Broeke, MR and 7 others (2016) On the recent contribution of the Greenland ice sheet to sea level change. Cryosphere, 10(5), 19331946
Van der Veen, C (1998) Fracture mechanics approach to penetration of bottom crevasses on glaciers. Cold. Reg. Sci. Technol., 27(3), 213223
Veitch, SA and Nettles, M (2012) Spatial and temporal variations in Greenland glacial-earthquake activity, 1993–2010. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf. (2003–2012), 117(F002412), 120
Veitch, SA and Nettles, M (2017) Assessment of glacial-earthquake source parameters. J. Glaciol., 63(241), 867876
Velicogna, I, Sutterley, T and Van Den Broeke, M (2014) Regional acceleration in ice mass loss from Greenland and Antarctica using grace time-variable gravity data. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41(22), 81308137
Wagner, TJ, James, TD, Murray, T and Vella, D (2016) On the role of buoyant flexure in glacier calving. Geophys. Res. Lett., 43(1), 232240A
Wagner, TJ, Stern, AA, Dell, RW and Eisenman, I (2017) On the representation of capsizing in iceberg models. Ocean Modelling, 117, 8896
Walter, F and 5 others (2012) Analysis of low-frequency seismic signals generated during a multiple-iceberg calving event at Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf. (2003–2012), 117(F1), F01036
Walter, F, Olivieri, M and Clinton, JF (2013) Calving event detection by observation of seiche effects on the Greenland fjords. J. Glaciol., 59(213), 162178
Wiens, DA, Anandakrishnan, S, Winberry, JP and King, MA (2008) Simultaneous teleseismic and geodetic observations of the stick–slip motion of an antarctic ice stream. Nature, 453(7196), 770774
Wilton, DJ, Bigg, GR and Hanna, E (2015) Modelling twentieth century global ocean circulation and iceberg flux at 48 n: implications for West Greenland iceberg discharge. Prog. Oceanogr., 138, 194210
Winberry, JP, Anandakrishnan, S and Alley, RB (2009) Seismic observations of transient subglacial water-flow beneath macayeal ice stream, west Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett., 36(11), L11502
Yang, Q and 7 others (2016) Recent increases in Arctic freshwater flux affects labrador sea convection and atlantic overturning circulation. Nat. Commun., 7, 10525
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

Sergeant et al. supplementary material
Sergeant et al. supplementary material 1

 PDF (1.4 MB)
1.4 MB


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