Evolution of subglacial water pressure along a glacier's length

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Observations from along the length of Bench Glacier, Alaska, USA, show that the subglacial water-pressure field undergoes a multiphase transition from a winter mode to a summer mode. Data were collected at the glacier surface, the outlet stream, and in a network of 47 boreholes spanning the length of the 7 km long glacier. The winter pressure field was near overburden, with low-magnitude (centimeter to meter scale) and long-period (days to weeks) variations. During a spring speed-up event, boreholes showed synchronous variations and a slight pressure drop from prior winter values. Diurnal pressure variations followed the speed-up, with their onset associated with a glacier-wide pressure drop and flood at the terminus stream. Diurnal variations with swings of up to 80% of overburden pressure were typical of mid-summer. Several characteristics of our observations contradict common conceptions about the seasonal development of the subglacial drainage system and the linkages between subglacial hydrology and basal sliding: (1) increased water pressure did not accompany high sliding rates; (2) the drainage system showed activity characteristic of the spring season long before abundant water was available on the glacier surface; (3) the onset of both spring activity and diurnal variations of the drainage system did not show a spatial progression along the length of the glacier.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3189/172756405781813573

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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