Dynamics of glacier calving at the ungrounded margin of Helheim Glacier, southeast Greenland

Tavi Murray*, Nick Selmes, Timothy D. James, Stuart Edwards, Ian Martin, Timothy O'Farrell, Robin Aspey, Ian Rutt, Meredith Nettles, Tim Baugé

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


During summer 2013 we installed a network of 19 GPS nodes at the ungrounded margin of Helheim Glacier in southeast Greenland together with three cameras to study iceberg calving mechanisms. The network collected data at rates up to every 7 s and was designed to be robust to loss of nodes as the glacier calved. Data collection covered 55 days, and many nodes survived in locations right at the glacier front to the time of iceberg calving. The observations included a number of significant calving events, and as a consequence the glacier retreated ~1.5 km. The data provide real-time, high-frequency observations in unprecedented proximity to the calving front. The glacier calved by a process of buoyancy-force-induced crevassing in which the ice downglacier of flexion zones rotates upward because it is out of buoyant equilibrium. Calving then occurs back to the flexion zone. This calving process provides a compelling and complete explanation for the data. Tracking of oblique camera images allows identification and characterisation of the flexion zones and their propagation downglacier. Interpretation of the GPS data and camera data in combination allows us to place constraints on the height of the basal cavity that forms beneath the rotating ice downglacier of the flexion zone before calving. The flexion zones are probably formed by the exploitation of basal crevasses, and theoretical considerations suggest that their propagation is strongly enhanced when the glacier base is deeper than buoyant equilibrium. Thus, this calving mechanism is likely to dominate whenever such geometry occurs and is of increasing importance in Greenland.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)964-982
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
©2015. The Authors.


  • Glacier calving
  • Greenland
  • Iceberg calving

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


Dive into the research topics of 'Dynamics of glacier calving at the ungrounded margin of Helheim Glacier, southeast Greenland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this