An empirical approach for estimating stress-coupling lengths for marine-terminating glaciers

Ellyn M. Enderlin, Gordon S. Hamilton, Shad O’Neel, Timothy C. Bartholomaus, Mathieu Morlighem, John W. Holt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Despite an increase in the abundance and resolution of observations, variability in the dynamic behavior of marine-terminating glaciers remains poorly understood. When paired with ice thicknesses, surface velocities can be used to quantify the dynamic redistribution of stresses in response to environmental perturbations through computation of the glacier force balance. However, because the force balance is not purely local, force balance calculations must be performed at the spatial scale over which stresses are transferred within glacier ice, or the stress-coupling length (SCL). Here we present a newempirical methodto estimate the SCL for marine-terminatingglaciers using high-resolution observations. We use the empirically-determined periodicity in resistive stress oscillations as a proxy for the SCL. Application of our empirical method to two well-studied tidewater glaciers (HelheimGlacier, SE Greenland, and Columbia Glacier, Alaska, USA) demonstrates that SCL estimates obtained using this approach are consistent with theory (i.e., can be parameterized as a function of the ice thickness) and with prior, independent SCL estimates. In order to accurately resolve stress variations, we suggest that similar empirical stress-coupling parameterizations be employed in future analyses of glacier dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104
JournalFrontiers in Earth Science
StatePublished - Dec 2 2016


  • Columbia glacier
  • Force balance
  • Glacier dynamics
  • Helheim glacier
  • Marine-terminatingglaciers
  • Stress-coupling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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