Regional passive seismic monitoring reveals dynamic glacier activity on Spitsbergen, Svalbard

  • Andreas Köhler Department of Geosciences, University of Oslo, Post Box 1047, 0316 Oslo, Norway
  • Christopher Nuth
  • Johannes Schweitzer
  • Christian Weidle
  • Steven J. Gibbons
Keywords: Iceberg calving, glacier surge, icequake, cryo-seismology, Svalbard


Dynamic glacier activity is increasingly observed through passive seismic monitoring. We analysed near-regional-scale seismicity on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard to identify seismic icequake signals and to study their spatial–temporal distribution within the 14-year period from 2000 until 2013. This is the first study that uses seismic data recorded on permanent broadband stations to detect and locate icequakes in different regions of Spitsbergen, the main island of the archipelago. A temporary local seismic network and direct observations of glacier calving and surging were used to identify icequake sources. We observed a high number of icequakes with clear spectral peaks between 1 and 8 Hz in different parts of Spitsbergen. Spatial clusters of icequakes could be associated with individual grounded tidewater glaciers and exhibited clear seasonal variability each year with more signals observed during the melt season. Locations at the termini of glaciers, and correlation with visual calving observations in situ at Kronebreen, a glacier in the Kongsfjorden region, show that these icequakes were caused dominantly by calving. Indirect evidence for glacier surging through increased calving seismicity was found in 2003 at Tunabreen, a glacier in central Spitsbergen. Another type of icequake was observed in the area of the Nathorstbreen glacier system. Seismic events occurred upstream of the glacier within a short time period between January and May 2009 during the initial phase of a major glacier surge. This study is the first step towards the generation and implementation of an operational seismic monitoring strategy for glacier dynamics in Svalbard.

Keywords: Iceberg calving; glacier surge; icequake; cryo-seismology; Svalbard.

(Published: 4 December 2015)

Citation: Polar Research 2015, 34, 26178,


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How to Cite
Köhler, A., Nuth, C., Schweitzer, J., Weidle, C., & Gibbons, S. J. (2015). Regional passive seismic monitoring reveals dynamic glacier activity on Spitsbergen, Svalbard. Polar Research, 34.
Research/review articles