The effect of meltwater plumes on the melting of a vertical glacier face

Satoshi Kimura*, Paul R. Holland, Adrian Jenkins, Matthew Piggott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


Freshwater produced by the surface melting of ice sheets is commonly discharged into ocean fjords from the bottom of deep fjord-terminating glaciers. The discharge of the freshwater forms upwelling plumes in front of the glacier calving face. This study simulates the meltwater plumes emanated into an unstratified environment using a nonhydrostatic ocean model with an unstructured mesh and subgrid-scale mixing calibrated by comparison to established plume theory. The presence of an ice face reduces the entrainment of seawater into the meltwater plumes, so the plumes remain attached to the ice front, in contrast to previous simple models. Ice melting increases with height above the discharge, also in contrast to some simple models, and the authors speculate that this "overcutting"may contribute to the tendency of icebergs to topple inwards toward the ice face upon calving. The overall melt rate is found to increase with discharge flux only up to a critical value, which depends on the channel size. Themelt rate is not a simple function of the subglacial discharge flux, as assumed by many previous studies. For a given discharge flux, the geometry of the plume source also significantly affects the melting, with higher melt rates obtained for a thinner, wider source. In a wider channel, two plumes are emanated near the source and these plumes eventually coalesce. Such merged meltwater plumes ascend faster and increase the maximummelt rate near the center of the channel. The melt rate per unit discharge decreases as the subglacial system becomes more channelized.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3099-3117
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number12
Early online date26 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014
Externally publishedYes


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