Skip to main content

Glacial rumblings from Jakobshavn ice stream, Greenland

  • J.A. Rial (a1), C. Tang (a1) and K. Steffen (a2)

The steep increase in Greenland’s glacial earthquake activity detected by the Global Seismographic Network since the late 1990s suggests that a close inspection of these events might provide clues to the nature and origin of such seismic activity. Here we discuss the detection of large, unexpected seismic events of extraordinarily long duration (10–40 min) occurring about once every 2 days, and localized in the ice stream that feeds the Earth’s fastest-moving glacier (Jakobshavn Isbræ) from the east. These ‘glacial rumblings’ represent an ice-mass wasting process that is greater and more frequent than glacial earthquakes have suggested. Probably triggered by calving, the rumblings are all very similar regardless of duration, and all end with a sharp, earthquake-like event in which the largest seismic amplitude is in the rumbling and that might signal the collapse of large ice masses upstream. By calculating the total amount of seismic energy released as rumblings, we estimate that the maximum seasonal amount of ice moved seismogenically down the ice stream is up to 12 km3, or ∼30% of the average annual iceberg discharge in Jakobshavn.

  • 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.

      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.

      Glacial rumblings from Jakobshavn ice stream, Greenland
      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 Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Glacial rumblings from Jakobshavn ice stream, Greenland
      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 Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Glacial rumblings from Jakobshavn ice stream, Greenland
      Available formats
Hide All
Aki K. and Richards P.G. 1980. Quantitative seismology. Second edition. Sausalito, CA, University Science Books.
Alley R.B., Spencer M.K. and Anandakrishnan S.. 2007. Ice-sheet mass balance: assessment, attribution and prognosis. Ann. Glaciol., 46, 17.
Amundson J.M., Truffer M., Lüthi M.P., Fahnestock M., West M., Motyka R.J.. 2008. Glacier, fjord and seismic response to recent large calving events, Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland. Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L22501. (doi: 10.1029/2008GL035281.)
Anandakrishnan S. and Bentley C.R.. 1993. Micro-earthquakes beneath Ice Streams B and C, West Antarctica: observations and implications. J. Glaciol., 39(133), 455462.
Bamber J.L., Alley R.B. and Joughin I.. 2007. Rapid response of modern day ice sheets to external forcing. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett., 257(1–2), 113.
Bindschadler R.A., King M.A., Alley R.B., Anandakrishnan S. and Padman L.. 2003. Tidally controlled stick–slip discharge of a West Antarctic ice stream. Science, 301(5636), 10871089.
Chung W.-Y. and Gao H.. 1997. The Greenland earthquake of 11 July 1987 and postglacial fault reactivation along a passive margin. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am., 87(4), 10581068.
Clarke T.S. and Echelmeyer K.. 1996. Seismic-reflection evidence for a deep subglacial trough beneath Jakobshavns Isbræ, West Greenland. J. Glaciol., 43(141), 219232.
Dahlen F. A. 1993. Single-force representation of shallow landslide sources. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am., 83(1), 130143.
Dietrich R., Rülke A. and Scheinert M.. 2005. Present-day vertical crustal deformations in West Greenland from repeated GPS observations. Geophys. J. Int., 163(3), 865874.
Dziewonski A.M., Chou T.-A. and Woodhouse J.H.. 1981. Determination of earthquake source parameters from waveform data for studies of global and regional seismicity. J. Geophys. Res., 86(B4), 28252852.
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 G.A.. 2003. Glacial earthquakes. Science, 302(5645), 622624.
Ekström G., Nettles M. and Tsai V.C.. 2006. Seasonality and increasing frequency of Greenland glacial earthquakes. Science, 311(5768), 17561758.
Ewing M., Jardetzky W. and Press F. 1957. Elastic waves in layered media. New York, McGraw-Hill.
Funk M., Echelmeyer K. and Iken A.. 1994. Mechanisms of fast flow in Jakobshavns Isbræ, West Greenland: Part II. Modeling of englacial temperatures. J. Glaciol., 40(136), 569585.
Hansen J.E. 2005. A slippery slope: how much global warming constitutes ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference’? Climatic Change, 68(3), 269279.
Hooke R.LeB. 2005. Principles of glacier mechanics. Second edition. Cambridge, etc., Cambridge University Press.
Howat I.M., Joughin I., Tulaczyk S. and Gogineni S.. 2005. Rapid retreat and acceleration of Helheim Glacier, east Greenland. Geophys. Res. Lett., 32(22), L22502. (10.1029/2005GL024737.)
Howat I.M., Joughin I.R. and Scambos T.A.. 2007. Rapid changes in ice discharge from Greenland outlet glaciers. Science, 315(5818), 15591561.
Iken A., Echelmeyer K., Harrison W. and Funk M.. 1993. Mechanisms of fast flow in Jakobshavns Isbræ, West Greenland: Part I. Measurements of temperature and water level in deep boreholes. J. Glaciol., 39(131), 1525.
Joughin I., Abdalati W. and Fahnestock M.A.. 2004. Large fluctuations in speed on Greenland’s Jakobshavn Isbræ glacier. Nature, 432(7017), 608610.
Kawakatsu H. 1989. Centroid single force inversion of seismic waves generated by landslides. J. Geophys. Res., 94(B9), 12,36312,374.
Kuroiwa D. 1964. Internal friction of ice. Contrib. Inst. Low Temp. Sci. A18, 237.
Lamb H. 1904. On the propagation of tremors over the surface of an elastic solid. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. London, Ser. A, 203, 142.
Larsen S., Harris D., Schultz C., Maddix D., Bakowsky T. and Bent L.. 1998. E3D. 3D elastic seismic wave propagation code. Livermore, CA, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. (Tech. Rep. ESTSC-001300MLTPL00.)
Lawson C.L. and Hanson R.J. 1995. Solving least squares problems. Philadelphia, PA, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.
Lee W.H.K. and Stewart S.W. 1981. Principles and applications in microearthquake networks. New York, Academic Press.
Lüthi A., Funk M. and Iken A.. 2003. Indication of active overthrust faulting along the Holocene–Wisconsin transition in the marginal zone of Jakobshavn Isbræ. J. Geophys. Res., 108(B11), 2543. (10.1029/2003JB002505.)
Maas H.-G., Dietrich R., Schwalbe E., Bässler M. and Westfeld P.. 2006. Analysis of the motion behaviour of Jakobshavn Isbræ Glacier in Greenland by monocular image sequence analysis. Int. Arch. Photogramm. Remote Sens., 36(5), 179183.
O’Neel S., Marshall H.P., McNamara D.E. and Pfeffer W.T.. 2007. Seismic detection and analysis of icequakes at Columbia Glacier, Alaska. J. Geophys. Res., 112(F3), F03S23. (10.1029/ 2006JF000595.)
O’Neel S. and Pfeffer W.T.. 2007. Source mechanics for monochromatic icequakes produced during iceberg calving at Columbia Glacier, AK. Geophys. Res. Lett., 34(22), L22502. (10.1029/2007GL031370.)
Petrenko V.F. and Whitworth R.W. 1999. Physics of ice. Oxford, etc., Oxford University Press.
Rignot E. and Kanagaratnam P.. 2006. Changes in the velocity structure of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Science, 311(5673), 986990.
Stearns L.A. and Hamilton G.S.. 2007. Thinning and acceleration of East Antarctic outlet glaciers. [Abstract C41C-08.] Eos, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl.
Steffen K., Nghiem S., Huff R. and Neumann G.. 2004. The melt anomaly of 2002 on the Greenland Ice Sheet from active and passive microwave satellite observations. Geophys. Res. Lett., 31(20), L20402. (10.1029/2004GL020444.)
Steffen K., Zwally J.H., Rial J.A., Behar A. and Huff R.. 2006. Climate variability, melt-flow acceleration, and ice quakes at the western slope of the Greenland Ice Sheet. [Abstract U22A-01.] Eos, 87(52), Fall Meet. Suppl.
Stein S. and Wysession M. 2003. Introduction to seismology, earthquakes and earth structure. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing.
Tsai V.C. and Ekström G.. 2007. Analysis of glacial earthquakes. J. Geophys. Res., 112(F3), F03522. (10.1029/2006JF000596.)
Wiens D.A., Anandakrishnan S., Wineberry J.P. and King M.A.. 2008. Simultaneous teleseismic and geodetic observations of the stick–slip motion of an Antarctic ice stream. Nature, 453(7196), 770774.
Zwally H.J., Abdalati W., Herring T., Larson K., Saba J. and Steffen K.. 2002. Surface melt-induced acceleration of Greenland ice-sheet flow. Science, 297(5579), 218222.
Recommend this journal

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

Journal of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0022-1430
  • EISSN: 1727-5652
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-glaciology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 3 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 146 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 8th September 2017 - 21st November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.