Experiments by Invited Researchers


Tsunamis due to ice masses: Different calving mechanisms and linkage to landslide-tsunamis

Project acronym: H+-Deltares-12-DB-Heller
Name of Group Leader: Valentin Heller
User-Project Title: Tsunamis due to ice masses: Different calving mechanisms and linkage to landslide-tsunamis
Facility: Delta Basin (Multi-directional wave basin)

Ice melting and retreat is one of the most visible effects of global warming (climate change) and contributes ≈1-2 mm/year to global sea-level rise (SLR) of the total observed SLR of ≈2-3 mm/year. Global warming results in the shrinking of ice masses in most ice covered regions in the World, particularly in the Alps and in Greenland where the Greenlandic mass loss is estimated at –263 ±30 Gt/year. A significant part of this mass loss is through the detachment of ice at glacier fronts in a mechanism called ice calving. If this ice mass impacts into a water body, then tsunamis may be generated, herein called “ice-tsunamis”. Such ice-tsunamis reached heights of up to 50 m, such as in an event at the Eqip Sermia outlet glacier in 2014.


The attached figure shows a selection of ice calving events which potentially generated tsunamis and splashes exceeding tens of meters. These waves pose a considerable hazard for the local community (e.g. 58 people died in a Greenlandic ice calving event in 1995 alone), the fishing industry and the increasing number of tourists in ice covered areas. The offshore Oil & Gas sector may also be affected, if the exploitation of the large oil and gas resources in the Arctic region goes ahead.


Several ice calving mechanisms have been proposed including fall, over-turning and capsizing. Reliable guidance on the upper limit of ice-tsunami heights generated by these ice calving mechanisms are currently unavailable. A main reason for this limited understanding of ice-tsunamis is that reliable field data are rare. Laboratory tests complemented with numerical simulations are thus likely to be an excellent method to advance this research field. This is the aim of this HYDRALAB+ funded study. The wave features (height, length, velocity) caused by ice masses in function of the ice calving mechanisms (fall, over-turning, capsizing), as well as the mass volume and kinematics will be modelled in unique large scale experiments. The exceptionally large scale will minimise scale effects and rule out wave reflections for up to 20 s after tsunami generation. The unique laboratory data will then be used to achieve a number of further objectives as outlined under the “Project objectives”.