Surges of Harald Moltke Bræ, north-western Greenland: Seasonal modulation and initiation at the terminus

Lukas Müller*, Martin Horwath, Mirko Scheinert, Christoph Mayer, Benjamin Ebermann, Dana Floricioiu, Lukas Krieger, Ralf Rosenau, Saurabh Vijay

*Corresponding author for this work

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Harald Moltke Bræ, a marine-terminating glacier in north-western Greenland, shows episodic surges. A recent surge from 2013 to 2019 lasted significantly longer (6 years) than previously observed surges (2-4 years) and exhibits a pronounced seasonality with flow velocities varying by 1 order of magnitude (between about 0.5 and 10gmgd-1) in the course of a year. During this 6-year period, the seasonal velocity always peaked in the early melt season and decreased abruptly when meltwater runoff was maximum. Our data suggest that the seasonality has been similar during previous surges. Furthermore, the analysis of satellite images and digital elevation models shows that the surge from 2013 to 2019 was preceded by a rapid frontal retreat and a pronounced thinning at the glacier front (30gm within 3 years). We discuss possible causal mechanisms of the seasonally modulated surge behaviour by examining various system-inherent factors (e.g. glacier geometry) and external factors (e.g. surface mass balance). The seasonality may be caused by a transition of an inefficient subglacial system to an efficient one, as known for many glaciers in Greenland. The patterns of flow velocity and ice thickness variations indicate that the surges are initiated at the terminus and develop through an up-glacier propagation of ice flow acceleration. Possibly, this is facilitated by a simultaneous up-glacier spreading of surface crevasses and weakening of subglacial till. Once a large part of the ablation zone has accelerated, conditions may favour substantial seasonal flow acceleration through seasonally changing meltwater availability. Thus, the seasonal amplitude remains high for 2 or more years until the fast ice flow has flattened the ice surface and the glacier stabilizes again.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)3355-3375
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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