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The statistical physics of iceberg calving and the emergence of universal calving laws

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Determining a calving law valid for all glaciological and environmental regimes has proven to be a difficult problem in glaciology. For this reason, most models of the calving process are semi-empirical, with little connection to the underlying fracture processes. In this study, I introduce methods rooted in statistical physics to show how calving laws, valid for any glaciological domain, can emerge naturally as a large-spatial-scale/long-temporal-scale limit of an underlying continuous or discrete fracture process. An important element of the method developed here is that iceberg calving is treated as a stochastic process and that the probability an iceberg will detach in a given interval of time can be described by a probability distribution function. Using limiting assumptions about the underlying probability distribution, the theory is shown to be able to simulate a range of calving styles, including the sporadic detachment of large, tabular icebergs from ice tongues and ice shelves and the more steady detachment of smaller-sized bergs from tidewater/outlet glaciers. The method developed has the potential to provide a physical basis to include iceberg calving into numerical ice-sheet models that can be used to produce more realistic estimates of the glaciological contribution to sea-level rise.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2011

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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