Modelling present glacier dynamics on Svalbard – from inferring surface velocities to computing a flow-consistent bedrock map
Global surface temperatures have risen by ~0.7°C over the previous century. Due to an inherent amplification of climatic changes in high latitudes, warming has been more expressed in Polar Regions. One eminent consequence is the general retreat of Svalbard glaciers observed throughout the last century. In the last decades, southern Svalbard glaciers have even moved on to thin at dramatically increasing rates. This latest thinning trend is however not confirmed throughout the Arctic. The reason relies in the unique climatic conditions on Svalbard. Since warm ocean currents in the North Atlantic reach the southern tip of the archipelago, the climate is rather warm and variable for its latitudinal band. Evolution of Svalbard glaciers has therefore often been suggested to play a precursor role for the other Arctic regions.Within the Arctic, Svalbard is unique in another respect, as glacier extents and elevation changes are well characterised over several decades. However, the interpretation of these geometric changes in terms of the climatic evolution is inhibited, as they arise from both the climatic surface mass balance and from ice flow divergence. The latter depends on glacier geometry and dynamics, and is not necessarily directly controlled by changes in climatological parameters. Yet, observations on glacier thicknesses and velocities are sparse and temporally incoherent, which impedes to this day a reliable quantification of the dynamic control on Svalbard glacier changes. By extension, we have only a vague idea on how much volume is annually discharged by iceberg calving at the marine ice fronts. Ice discharge presumably explains a large portion in the total mass budget, as more than half of the ice-covered area drains through marine-terminated glaciers.The aim of the research proposal is to expand the knowledge on the ice dynamic component of glacier evolution to the entire Svalbard archipelago. To this end, surface velocities are inferred from satellite remote sensing, which, in turn, serve to reconstruct the bedrock topography beneath all ice-covered areas.
The reconstruction makes use of the mass conservation principle, provides therefore a flow-consistent thickness map and is already implemented in our ice flow model. Information on both ice velocities and ice thickness are a prerequisite to quantify the ice flow divergence that explains a, to this day, largely unknown portion of glacier changes. The reconstruction will therefore make it possible to better interpret recent geometric changes in the light of the observed atmospheric warming in the Arctic. Moreover, previous extrapolations for archipelago-wide estimates of ice volume and discharge can be improved on a physical basis. As the bedrock reconstruction is consistent with the observed ice flow, the map will facilitate the application of ice flow models on Svalbard. With our flow model, we aim at inferring the contribution of basal sliding to present glacier flow.
(Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) – Projekt number 274939856)