Loughborough University
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Meltwater delivery from the tidewater glacier Kronebreen to Kongsfjorden, Svalbard; insights from in-situ and remote-sensing analyses of sediment plumes

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posted on 2015-11-12, 10:08 authored by Eleanor F. Darlington
Tidewater glaciers form a significant drainage catchment of glacierised areas, directly transporting meltwater from the terrestrial to the marine environment. Surface melt of glaciers in the Arctic is increasing in response to warmer atmospheric temperatures, whilst tidewater glaciers are also exposed to warmer ocean temperatures, stimulating submarine melt. Increased freshwater discharge not only freshens fjord waters, but also plays a key role in glacimarine sedimentary processes, transporting sediment to glacial fjords. Despite this, the temporal evolution of meltwater production, storage and release from tidewater glacier systems at seasonal and interannual time scales is poorly understood. This leaves large uncertainties in the predictions for future sea level rise, ocean circulation and the impacts on the marine ecosystem. This study focuses on Kronebreen, a tidewater glacier which flows into the head of Kongsfjorden, north west Svalbard. Surface melt produces freshwater runoff, which is discharged from the grounding line as a buoyant, sediment laden plume, which spreads laterally across the surface water. This supraglacial melt is the dominant freshwater source, contributing an order of magnitude more freshwater to Kongsfjorden, than direct submarine melting of the ice face. Calibration of MODIS band 1 satellite imagery with in situ measurements of Total Suspended Solids and spectral reflectance, provides a method to quantify meltwater and sediment discharge. Plume extent has been determined for each cloud free day, from June to September, 2002 - 2013. Analysis of plume extent with atmospheric temperature and modeled surface runoff, gives a source to sea insight to meltwater production, storage and discharge. The extent of the plume changes in response to meltwater; larger plumes form when discharge increases. These results reveal that meltwater discharge into Kongsfjorden lags atmospheric temperature, the primary driver of meltwater production, by over a week during June and July. This is reduced to only 1 - 2 days in August and September, indicating a decline in meltwater storage as the ablation season progresses, and the development of more efficient glacial drainage. Sediment plumes respond to meltwater production, making them a valuable tool for quantifying meltwater discharge from a tidewater glacier. Insights to glacier hydrology can also be obtained when surface processes are also considered. This furthers the understanding of tidewater glacier hydrology, which is valuable for improving the accuracy of sea level rise predictions.


Loughborough University Postgraduate Studentship, Norwegian Research Council Arctic Field Grant



  • Social Sciences


  • Geography and Environment


© Eleanor Darlington

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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