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Reverse glacier motion during iceberg calving and the cause of glacial earthquakes

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Stuart Edwards, Dr Ian Martin



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by American Association for the Advancement of Science , 2015.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Nearly half of Greenland's mass loss occurs through iceberg calving, but the physical mechanisms operating during calving are poorly known and in situ observations are sparse. We show that calving at Greenland's Helheim Glacier causes a minutes-long reversal of the glacier's horizontal flow and a downward deflection of its terminus. The reverse motion results from the horizontal force caused by iceberg capsize and acceleration away from the glacier front. The downward motion results from a hydrodynamic pressure drop behind the capsizing berg, which also causes an upward force on the solid Earth. These forces are the source of glacial earthquakes, globally detectable seismic events whose proper interpretation will allow remote sensing of calving processes occurring at increasing numbers of outlet glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Murray T, Nettles M, Selmes N, Cathles LM, Burton JC, James TD, Edwards S, Martin I, O'Farrell T, Aspey R, Rutt I, Bauge T

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Science

Year: 2015

Volume: 349

Issue: 6245

Pages: 305-308

Print publication date: 17/07/2015

Online publication date: 25/06/2015

Acceptance date: 12/06/2015

Date deposited: 07/10/2015

ISSN (print): 0036-8075

ISSN (electronic): 1095-9203

Publisher: American Association for the Advancement of Science


DOI: 10.1126/science.aab0460


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Funder referenceFunder name
Royal Society Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship
Climate Change Consortium of Wales (C3W)
Michigan Society of Fellows
EAR-1249167U.S. NSF
NE/I007148/1Natural Environment Research Council UK