Large-scale experiments into the tsunamigenic potential of different iceberg calving mechanisms

Sci Rep. 2019 Jan 29;9(1):861. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-36634-3.


Mass balance analysis of ice sheets is a key component to understand the effects of global warming. A significant component of ice sheet and shelf mass balance is iceberg calving, which can generate large tsunamis endangering human beings and coastal infrastructure. Such iceberg-tsunamis have reached amplitudes of 50 m and destroyed harbours. Calving icebergs interact with the surrounding water through different mechanisms and we investigate five; A: capsizing, B: gravity-dominated fall, C: buoyancy-dominated fall, D: gravity-dominated overturning and E: buoyancy-dominated overturning. Gravity-dominated icebergs essentially fall into the water body whereas buoyancy-dominated icebergs rise to the water surface. We find with unique large-scale laboratory experiments that iceberg-tsunami heights from gravity-dominated mechanisms (B and D) are roughly an order of magnitude larger than from A, C and E. A theoretical model for released iceberg energy supports this finding and the measured wave periods upscaled to Greenlandic outlet glaciers agree with field observations. Whilst existing empirical equations for landslide-tsunamis establish estimates of an upper envelope of the maximum iceberg-tsunami heights, they fail to capture the physics of most iceberg-tsunami mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't