Quantifying the Flow Kinematics of Debris-Covered Glaciers with Repeat Airborne LiDAR and Photogrammetry
Abstract:Debris-covered glaciers and rock glaciers encompass a range of compositions and activity, including relict glaciers containing ice that has survived long after accumulation has ceased. Hence they are useful paleoclimate indicators in some cases, and if currently active will respond differently to ongoing climate change than glaciers without a protective cover. Their flow dynamics are not well understood, partially due to their typically slow velocities (centimeters per year in many cases); furthermore, their unique surface morphologies, including lobate fronts and arcuate ridges, likely result from viscous flow influenced by a combination of composition, structure, and climatic factors. However, basic connections between flow kinematics and surface morphology have not yet been established, limiting our ability to understand these features and extract paleoclimate information.
In order to address this problem, we have acquired repeat, high-resolution topographic maps of debris-covered and rock glaciers in the Wrangell-St. Elias range of Alaska and Sierra Nevada, California. This was accomplished using both scanning LiDAR and photogrammetry to produce digital terrain models (DTMs) with approx. 25 cm resolution. Differencing the DTMs provides full-surface deformation fields that indicate up to meters of annual motion in some cases. The flow field is highly correlated with surface features; in particular, compressional ridges. We are undertaking surface geophysics measurements on Sourdough Rock Glacier in Alaska to relate internal structure and composition to the observed morphology and flow kinematics. Our results demonstrate the utility of repeat topographic mapping and will help provide new insights into the climatic significance of rock and debris-covered glaciers on both Earth and Mars.