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Published January 10, 1993 | Published
Journal Article Open

Characteristics of the Bed of the Lower Columbia Glacier, Alaska


An unplanned, but unique, experiment has given an in situ measurement of the strength of deforming subglacial till under the central region of a major valley glacier. We report on both planned and unplanned borehole investigations of the subglacial shear zone of Columbia Glacier, southeast Alaska. Basal samples, coring and down-hole water samples show that the fiord-filling lower reach of the glacier is underlain by a thin, ∼ 7-cm, veneer of rock debris. Fluidized debris intruded at least a meter up the borehole. At a higher site, 13 km from the terminus and above the fiord, probing, samples, and the bending of a drill stem, which was stuck in the basal zone for 5 days, showed that the basal till layer was ∼ 65 cm thick. Horizontal velocity of the till decreased monotonically downward from the ice/till interface. Till at the interface moved with the ice velocity. Plastic deformation of the drill stem gave an estimate of the strength of the basal till, which is normally described as a viscoplastic material. If the till is assumed to be either perfectly plastic or Newtonian viscous, then the strengths are as follows; the plastic yield strength of the till was 5.5×10^3 Pa (0.055 bar) with an upper bound of 1.3 ×10^4 Pa (0.13 bar), while the nominal viscosity was of the order of 2×10^8 Pa s (2×10^9 poise), with an upper bound of 5×10^8 Pa s. In neither case is the till "strength" enough to supply the bulk basal shear stress to resist the glacier flow.

Additional Information

© 1993 American Geophysical Union. Received May 17, 1991; revised August 3, 1992; accepted August 6, 1992. The authors would like to acknowledge thorough reviews by J. Walder and an anonymous reviewer. This study was supported by NSF grant DPP8619352.

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