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SSF-Svalbard Science Forum

The Heer Land overabundance of Thermal-switch surges

Tildelt: kr 0,11 mill.

Glaciers around the world are losing mass at an accelerated rate (Hugonnet et al., 2021), and Svalbard experiences this even faster than the global average, largely due to its strong interaction with warm Atlantic ocean currents (Piechura and Walczowski, 2009). The latest IPCC reports present models for future glacier mass balance (IPCC, 2023), but many uncertainties still remain in these prognoses. One large "deep uncertainty" (uncertainties that cannot yet even be quantified) is glacier instability due to rapid climatic changes. Glacier surges, arguably the most common form of dynamic instability, can exacerbate an individual glacier's mass loss by multiple times (Dunse et al., 2015; Nuth et al., 2019), and studies suggest a link between rapid climate change and surging (e.g. Sevestre et al, 2015; Nuth et al., 2019), meaning the cause of glacier instability is vital to study further. To emphasise, no one in the cryospheric community knows whether large-scale climate-induced instabilities (surges or ice stream initiation) may trigger losses on substantial ice masses like Greenland or Antarctica in the near-future. Svalbard is an excellent study site to start this research, as the interplay between climate change and instability seems to occur today. Our plan to perform 11 days of fieldwork with Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) surveys will allow us study the abnormal incidence rate of glacier surges in Heer Land, central Svalbard, to narrow down the mechanism that drives is abnormality. Opportunistic GPR field campaigns that we performed between 2021 and 2023 hint that the increased melt and precipitation of the region have changed the temperature of the ice up-glacier, and sometimes trigger surges through a "thermal-switch" mechanism (Clarke, 1976). To prove this behaviour, we need to approach this region systematically, and survey more glaciers with similar behaviours, but which are not yet surging, in the study area.


SSF-Svalbard Science Forum