Seasonal evolution of glacier velocity and portraits of basal motion across southeast Alaska via cross-correlation of optical satellite imagery
Abstract:We investigate how glacier geometry and geographic setting govern a glacier’s response to meltwater and precipitation inputs. Does the up-glacier limit of enhanced summer basal motion vary across glaciers? Do non-surge glaciers show consistent spatial patterns of basal motion from year to year? We investigate such questions by documenting the seasonal-to-annual evolution of surface velocity for over 25 surge- and non-surge type glaciers in the Wrangell-St Elias ranges of southeast Alaska, USA, during 2013-2015.
We use the Python-implemented PYCORR image cross-correlation software to estimate ice surface velocity fields over ~35,000 km2 covered by four Landsat-8 (L8) scenes. PYCORR is an optimized version of IMCORR, and takes less than 5 minutes to process a full L8 scene. This computational efficiency allows us to calculate dozens of velocity fields for each scene to provide high temporal resolution. We automate the extraction of velocity profiles along longitudinal glacier profiles to document their temporal evolution over timespans ranging from 16 days to greater than one year at spatial resolution of several tens to several hundred meters. This method provides much greater spatial coverage than GPS-derived velocities, and succeeds in terrain of rough surface texture and significant temporal elevation change, both of which present substantial challenges for deriving InSAR velocities.
Preliminary data on Kennicott Glacier (Figure 1) resolve the annual velocity cycle in which speeds are lowest over winter and highest in summer reflecting meltwater-induced basal motion. We find notable seasonal velocity fluctuations at distances of more than 30 km from the glacier terminus. While longitudinal stress gradient coupling may explain a portion of these velocity variations, local basal motion must contribute, as the relatively thin (~500 m) ice cannot transmit longitudinal stresses over such distances. Regions downstream of tributary junctions show consistently accelerated flow, likely allowed by reduced wall friction.
By differencing summer and winter velocity estimates, we create spatially-distributed maps of the summer speedup and examine how this varies from year to year, as well as across different glaciers. These data will inform our understanding of the mechanics of glacier basal motion.