Near-glacier surveying of a subglacial discharge plume: Implications for plume parameterizations

R. H. Jackson, E. L. Shroyer, J. D. Nash, D. A. Sutherland, D. Carroll, M. J. Fried, G. A. Catania, T. C. Bartholomaus, L. A. Stearns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


At tidewater glaciers, plume dynamics affect submarine melting, fjord circulation, and the mixing of meltwater. Models often rely on buoyant plume theory to parameterize plumes and submarine melting; however, these parameterizations are largely untested due to a dearth of near-glacier measurements. Here we present a high-resolution ocean survey by ship and remotely operated boat near the terminus of Kangerlussuup Sermia in west Greenland. These novel observations reveal the 3-D structure and transport of a near-surface plume, originating at a large undercut conduit in the glacier terminus, that is inconsistent with axisymmetric plume theory, the most common representation of plumes in ocean-glacier models. Instead, the observations suggest a wider upwelling plume—a “truncated” line plume of ∼200 m width—with higher entrainment and plume-driven melt compared to the typical axisymmetric representation. Our results highlight the importance of a subglacial outlet's geometry in controlling plume dynamics, with implications for parameterizing the exchange flow and submarine melt in glacial fjord models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6886-6894
Number of pages9
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 16 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


  • entrainment
  • fjord
  • glacier
  • plume
  • subglacial discharge
  • submarine melt


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