Surges of glaciers in Iceland

Helgi Björnsson, Finnur Pálsson, Oddur Sigurdsson, Gwenn E. Flowers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Citations (Scopus)


Surges are common in all the major ice caps in Iceland, and historical reports of surge occurrence go back several centuries. Data collection and regular observation over the last several decades have permitted a detailed description of several surges, from which it is possible to generalize on the nature of surging in Icelandic glaciers. Combining the historical records of glacier-front variations and recent field research, we summarize the geographic distribution of surging glaciers, their subglacial topography and geology, the frequency and duration of surges, changes in glacier surface geometry during the surge cycle, and measured velocity changes compared to calculated balance velocities. We note the indicators of surge onset and describe changes in ice, water and sediment fluxes during a surge. Surges accomplish a significant fraction of the total mass transport through the main outlet glaciers of ice caps in Iceland and have important implications for their hydrology. Our analysis of the data suggests that surge-type glaciers in Iceland are characterized by gently sloping surfaces and that they move too slowly to remain in balance given their accumulation rate. Surge frequency is neither regular nor clearly related to glacier size or mass balance. Steeply sloping glaciers, whether hard- or soft-bedded, seem to move sufficiently rapidly to keep in balance with the annual accumulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-90
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of Glaciology
Publication statusPublished - 2003


Dive into the research topics of 'Surges of glaciers in Iceland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this