Winter speed-up during a quiescent phase of surge-type glaciers: observations and implications

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Takahiro Abe and Masato Furuya, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan
Glacier surface velocity is a combination of the internal deformation of ice and basal slip (including till deformation overlying bedrock) (Cuffey and Paterson, 2010). Short-term velocity changes can be attributed to basal slip associated with water pressure changes because of both the seasonal meltwater input and the evolution of the englacial and subglacial hydrological system. Thus, examining the velocity changes with high spatial and temporal resolution is helpful to understand how subglacial conditions evolve and control the surface velocities.

We examined spatial and temporal velocity changes at quiescent surge-type glaciers near the border of Alaska/Yukon by SAR offset tracking and found significant acceleration from fall to winter regardless of surge events. Moreover, whereas the upstream propagating summer speed-up was observed, the winter speed-up propagated from upstream to downstream. Lingle and Fatland (2003) proposed the englacial water storages as the fundamental driver of temperate-glacier surge. Although our observations were performed at the quiescent and rather poly-thermal than temperate surge-type glaciers, our observations also support the englacial water storage hypothesis. Namely, the englacial water storages that do not directly connect to the surface can promote basal sliding through increased water pressure as winter approaches.

Glacier surge often initiates in winter (Raymond, 1987), which has been explained by creep closure of efficient drainage system in fall and subsequent higher water pressure in winter. Mini-surges are also known in this area, and have been interpreted in a similar mechanism. However, in order to maintain the higher water pressure for some time period in winter, there should be such sources that can keep supplying the water to the bed. It has been uncertain, however, if, how and where the water can be stored in winter. Also, we should keep in mind that many of the previously known mini-surges were actually occurring in spring and summer (Kamb and Engelhardt, 1987; Harrison and Post, 2003). There are, to our knowledge, few comprehensive velocity observations in terms of both spatial and temporal coverages.

Here we review some previous observations, place our observations in context of the glacier surge dynamics, and propose the winter speed-up mechanism.