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Waves of accelerated motion in a glacier approaching surge: the mini-surges of Variegated Glacier, Alaska, U.S.A.

Kamb, Barclay and Engelhardt, Hermann (1987) Waves of accelerated motion in a glacier approaching surge: the mini-surges of Variegated Glacier, Alaska, U.S.A. Journal of Glaciology, 33 (113). pp. 27-46. ISSN 0022-1430.

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Periods of dramatically accelerated motion, in which the flow velocity increases suddenly from about 55 cm/d to a peak of 100-300 cm/d and then decreases gradually over the course of a day, occurred repeatedly during June and July 1978-81 in Variegated Glacier (Alaska), a surging-type glacier that surged in 1982-83. These "mini-surges" appear to be related mechanistically to the main surge. The flow-velocity peak propagates down-glacier as a wave at a speed of about 0.3 km/h, over a reach of about 6 km in length. It is accompanied by a propagating pressure wave in the basal water system of the glacier, in which, after a preliminary drop, the pressure rises rapidly to a level greater than the ice-overburden pressure at the glacier bed, and then drops gradually over a period of 1-2 d, usually reaching a new low for the summer. The peak velocity is accompanied by a peak of high seismic activity due to widespread fresh crevassing. It is also accompanied by a rapid uplift of the glacier surface, amounting to 6-11 cm, which then relaxes over a period of 1-2 d. Maximum uplift rate coincides with the peak in flow velocity; the peak in accumulated uplift lags behind the velocity peak by 2 h. The uplift is mainly due to basal cavitation driven by the high basal water pressure, although the strain wave associated with the mini-surge motion can also contribute. Basal cavitation is probably responsible for the pulse of high turbidity that appears in the terminal outflow stream in association with each mini-surge. In the down-glacier reach, where the mini-surge waves are attenuating, the observed strain wave corresponds to what is expected for the propagating pulse in flow velocity, but in the reach of maximum mini-surge motion the strain wave has a form quite different, possibly related to special features in the mini-surge initiation process from that point up-stream. The flow acceleration in the mini-surges is due to enhanced basal sliding caused by the high basal water pressure and the consequent reduction of bed friction. A preliminary velocity increase shortly before the pressure wave arrives is caused by the forward shove that the main accelerated mass exerts on the ice ahead of it, and the resulting preliminary basal cavitation causes the drop in water pressure shortly before the pressure wave arrives. The mini-surge wave propagation is controlled by the propagation of the water-pressure wave in the basal water-conduit system. The propagation characteristics result from a longitudinal gradient (up-glacier increase) in hydraulic conductivity of the basal water system in response to the up-glacier increase of the basal water pressure in the mini-surge wave. The mini-surge waves are initiated in a succession of areas situated generally progressively up-glacier during the course of the summer season. In these areas, presumably, melt water that has accumulated in subglacial (?) reservoirs is released suddenly into the basal water system immediately below, generating a pressure rise that propagates down-stream from there. Relationships of the mini-surges to the main surge are seen in the role of high basal water pressure in causing the rapid glacier motion in both phenomena, in the pulse- propagation features of both, and in the high outflow turbidity associated with both. The mini-surges of Variegated Glacier have a strong resemblance to movement and uplift events observed in Unteraargletscher and Findelengletscher, Switzerland. This bears on the question whether the mini-surges are a particular characteristic of surge-type glaciers prior to surge.

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Additional Information:© 1987 International Glaciological Society. MS. received 26 February 1986 and in revised form 27 November 1986. This work was made possible by grant DPP79-02584 from the U .S. National Science Foundation. We acknowledge the cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service, Tongass National Forest, and the V.S. National Park Service, Wrangell-St.Elias National Park, in giving permission for the field work. Drs C. Raymond and S. Malone kindly provided the seismicity data in Figures 7, 8, 10, and 15-17. Logistical support was ably provided by Livingston Helicopters, Inc. The field work was carried out with the help of W. Power, J. Power, P. McMurtry, J. McLean, N. Sevitz, B. Quinn, G. Glassmoyer, T. Brian, A. Kamb, and C. Bretherton. We thank C. Raymond and W. Harrison and their field parties on Variegated Glacier for much cooperation and help in the field.
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Caltech Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences 3734
Issue or Number:113
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ID Code:49673
Deposited By: Ruth Sustaita
Deposited On:12 Sep 2014 21:34
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 07:15

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