Subglacial meltwater discharge in the open-marine tidewater glacier environment: Observations from Nordaustlandet, Svalbard Archipelago

Stephanie L. Pfirman, Anders Solheim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


The ice-proximal environment of the Nordaustlandet tidewater ice cap, Svalbard Archipelago, is one of the best analogues for understanding glacial geologic processes of northern continental shelves during initial Pleistocene deglaciation. Investigations of the proglacial region in 1980-1983 showed that the sedimentary environment is dominated by numerous meltwater outflows which discharge sediment-laden water from subglacial meltwater streams during the summer. Two large, stable meltwater outflows were observed in embayments along the southern part of the ice front. Landsat images show that both outflows have been in approximately the same position since at least 1976. They are located at the intersection of glacial drainage basins and centered over depressions in the underlying bedrock. An "outflow valley" extending away from the ice front was observed in front of the western meltwater outflow. Sidescan sonar profiling along the glacier front showed a 200 m wide gap in acoustic reflection at the base of the western meltwater outflow, probably caused by meltwater effluence. Enhanced sediment accumulations in this region, observed as a ≈ 3 ms sediment drape in front of the outflow, and large arcuate ridges in the outflow valley, testify to the transport efficiency of the subglacial meltwater stream. Several mounds, up to about 25 m high and 200 m wide, are observed on sidescan and 3.5 kHz profiles directly in front of the outflow. Although samples from these structures are absent, they are most likely composed of sediment and are similar to beaded eskers observed in Pleistocene glacimarine sequences indicating locally very high sedimentation rates. Fine-grained components of the subglacial discharge incorporated in the buoyant meltwater plume are usually entrained in a westerly coastal current. Elevated suspended particulate material concentrations are observed within the coastal waters in a region extending about 15 km perpendicular to the glacier front and at least 60 km along the ice front extending into the northwestern Barents Sea.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-281
Number of pages17
JournalMarine Geology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


Dive into the research topics of 'Subglacial meltwater discharge in the open-marine tidewater glacier environment: Observations from Nordaustlandet, Svalbard Archipelago'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this