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Submarine melting at the terminus of a temperate tidewater glacier, LeConte Glacier, Alaska, U.S.A.

  • Roman J. Motyka (a1) (a2), Lewis Hunter (a3), Keith A. Echelmeyer (a1) and Cathy Connor (a2)

Heat, fresh- and sea-water balances indicate that the late-summer rate of submarine melting at the terminus of tidewater LeConte Glacier, Alaska, U.S.A., in 2000 was about 12 m d−1 w.e., averaged over the submerged face. This is 57% of the estimated total ice loss at the terminus (calving plus melting) at this time. Submarine melting may thus provide a significant contribution to the overall ablation of a tidewater glacier. Oceanographic measurements (conductivity–temperature–depth) made 200–500m from the terminus identified an isohaline (27 ppt) and isothermal (7.2°C) layer extending from 130 m depth to the fjord floor. Capping this is a 40 m thick overflow plume, distinguished by high outflow rates, low salinity (22–25 ppt) and lower temperatures (5–6°C). Mixing models indicate that fresh water comprised about 11% of this plume; it originates mostly as subglacial discharge whose buoyancy drives convection at the terminus. Deep, warm saline waters are incorporated into the plume as it ascends, causing substantial melting of ice along the submarine face. The calving terminus undergoes seasonal changes that coincide with changes in subglacial discharge and fjord water temperatures, and we suggest that these fluctuations in terminus position are directly related to changes in submarine melting.

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Annals of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0260-3055
  • EISSN: 1727-5644
  • URL: /core/journals/annals-of-glaciology
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