The empirical basis for modelling glacial erosion rates

Simon J. Cook (Lead / Corresponding author), Darrel A. Swift, Martin P. Kirkbride, Peter G. Knight, Richard I. Waller

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    44 Citations (Scopus)
    56 Downloads (Pure)


    Glaciers are highly effective agents of erosion that have profoundly shaped Earth's surface, but there is uncertainty about how glacial erosion should be parameterised in landscape evolution models. Glacial erosion rate is usually modelled as a function of glacier sliding velocity, but the empirical basis for this relationship is weak. In turn, climate is assumed to control sliding velocity and hence erosion, but this too lacks empirical scrutiny. Here, we present statistically robust relationships between erosion rates, sliding velocities, and climate from a global compilation of 38 glaciers. We show that sliding is positively and significantly correlated with erosion, and derive a relationship for use in erosion models. Our dataset further demonstrates that the most rapid erosion is achieved at temperate glaciers with high mean annual precipitation, which serve to promote rapid sliding. Precipitation has received little attention in glacial erosion studies, but our data illustrate its importance.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number759
    Pages (from-to)1-7
    Number of pages7
    JournalNature Communications
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2020

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Chemistry(all)
    • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
    • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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