Iceberg Calving: Regimes and Transitions

R. B. Alley, K. M. Cuffey, J. N. Bassis, K. E. Alley, S. Wang, B. R. Parizek, S. Anandakrishnan, K. Christianson, R. M. Deconto

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Uncertainty about sea-level rise is dominated by uncertainty about iceberg calving, mass loss from glaciers or ice sheets by fracturing. Review of the rapidly growing calving literature leads to a few overarching hypotheses. Almost all calving occurs near or just downglacier of a location where ice flows into an environment more favorable for calving, so the calving rate is controlled primarily by flow to the ice margin rather than by fracturing. Calving can be classified into five regimes, which tend to be persistent, predictable, and insensitive to small perturbations in flow velocity, ice characteristics, or environmental forcing; these regimes can be studied instrumentally. Sufficiently large perturbations may cause sometimes-rapid transitions between regimes or between calving and noncalving behavior, during which fracturing may control the rate of calving. Regime transitions underlie the largest uncertainties in sea-level rise projections, but with few, important exceptions, have not been observed instrumentally. This is especially true of the most important regime transitions for sea-level rise. Process-based models informed by studies of ongoing calving, and assimilation of deep-time paleoclimatic data, may help reduce uncertainties about regime transitions. Failure to include calving accurately in predictive models could lead to large underestimates of warming-induced sea-level rise. ▪Iceberg calving, the breakage of ice from glaciers and ice sheets, affects sea level and many other environmental issues. ▪Modern rates of iceberg calving usually are controlled by the rate of ice flow past restraining points, not by the brittle calving processes. ▪Calving can be classified into five regimes, which are persistent, predictable, and insensitive to small perturbations. ▪Transitions between calving regimes are especially important, and with warming might cause faster sea-level rise than generally projected.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-215
Number of pages27
JournalAnnual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences
StatePublished - May 31 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

Cite this