Meltwater Intrusions Reveal Mechanisms for Rapid Submarine Melt at a Tidewater Glacier

R. H. Jackson, J. D. Nash, C. Kienholz, D. A. Sutherland, J. M. Amundson, R. J. Motyka, D. Winters, E. Skyllingstad, E. C. Pettit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Submarine melting has been implicated as a driver of glacier retreat and sea level rise, but to date melting has been difficult to observe and quantify. As a result, melt rates have been estimated from parameterizations that are largely unconstrained by observations, particularly at the near-vertical termini of tidewater glaciers. With standard coefficients, these melt parameterizations predict that ambient melting (the melt away from subglacial discharge outlets) is negligible compared to discharge-driven melting for typical tidewater glaciers. Here, we present new data from LeConte Glacier, Alaska, that challenges this paradigm. Using autonomous kayaks, we observe ambient meltwater intrusions that are ubiquitous within 400 m of the terminus, and we provide the first characterization of their properties, structure, and distribution. Our results suggest that ambient melt rates are substantially higher (×100) than standard theory predicts and that ambient melting is a significant part of the total submarine melt flux. We explore modifications to the prevalent melt parameterization to provide a path forward for improved modeling of ocean-glacier interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2019GL085335
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 28 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


  • autonomous kayaks
  • fjord
  • glacier
  • plumes
  • submarine melt


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