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Non-linear glacier response to calving events, Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland


Jakobshavn Isbræ, a tidewater glacier that produces some of Greenland's largest icebergs and highest speeds, reached record-high flow rates in 2012 (Joughin and others, 2014). We use terrestrial radar interferometric observations from August 2012 to characterize the events that led to record-high flow. We find that the highest speeds occurred in response to a small calving retreat, while several larger calving events produced negligible changes in glacier speed. This non-linear response to calving events suggests the terminus was close to flotation and therefore highly sensitive to terminus position. Our observations indicate that a glacier's response to calving is a consequence of two competing feedbacks: (1) an increase in strain rates that leads to dynamic thinning and faster flow, thereby promoting destabilization, and (2) an increase in flow rates that advects thick ice toward the terminus and promotes restabilization. The competition between these feedbacks depends on temporal and spatial variations in the glacier's proximity to flotation. This study highlights the importance of dynamic thinning and advective processes on tidewater glacier stability, and further suggests the latter may be limiting the current retreat due to the thick ice that occupies Jakobshavn Isbræ’s retrograde bed.

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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.
Corresponding author
Correspondence: Ryan Cassotto <>
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Present address: Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO.

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