Rapid glacier sliding, reverse ice motion and subglacial water pressure during an autumn rainstorm

T. J. Fudge, University of Washington - Seattle Campus
Joel T. Harper, University of Montana - Missoula
Neil Humphrey, University of Wyoming
W. Tad Pfeffer, University of Colorado Boulder

Publishers: http://www.igsoc.org/


Measurements of basal water pressure from 15 boreholes located at both local (tens of meters) and regional (kilometers) length scales were used to elucidate the pressure/sliding relationship during an autumn rapid motion event on Bench Glacier, Alaska, USA. The 8 day event had two distinct phases, each with a ten-fold speed-up with respect to winter velocity. The water pressure in all 15 boreholes varied synchronously during the speed-up. The first phase of rapid sliding began after a peak in basal water pressure and continued while the pressure was elevated and stable, or decreasing. The second phase of rapid sliding occurred when teh basal water pressure was low but increasing, and terminated before the pressure peaked. Pressure and velocity do not appear unrelated, but the pressure/sliding relationship was not consistently linked to increasing, decreasing or a critical water pressure. The pressure variation and sliding accelerations are a response to a warm rainstorm, although equally large input events occurred in weeks prior with no apparent response. Drainage system evolution therefore appears to play a key role in both the acceleration and the pressure/velocity relationship. Basal cavity dynamics are likely responsible for three episodes of reverse (up-valley) motion observed after enhanced sliding.