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A model of ablation-dominated medial moraines and the generation of debris-mantled glacier snouts

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Medial moraines form striking dark stripes that widen non-linearly, steepen laterally and increase in relief down-glacier from the equilibrium line. Coalescence of these low-ablation-rate features can feed back strongly on the mass balance of a glacier snout. Ablation-dominated medial moraines originate from debris delivered to glacier margins, producing a debris-rich septum between tributary streams of ice below their confluence. Emergence of this ice below the equilibrium line delivers debris to the glacier surface, which then moves down local slopes of evolving morainal topography. A quantitative description of moraine evolution requires specification of the debris concentration field within the glacier, treatment of the melt-rate dependence on debris thickness, and characterization of processes that transport debris once it emerges onto the ice surface. Debris concentration at glacier tributary junctions scales with the erosion rates and the lengths of the tributary-valley walls, and inversely with the tributary ice speeds. Melt rate is damped exponentially by debris, with a ∼ 10 cm decay scale. Debris flux across the glacier surface scales with the product of debris thickness and local slope. Analytical and numerical results show that medial moraines should develop cross-glacier profiles with parabolic crests and linear slopes, and should widen with age and hence distance down-glacier. Debris should be both thin and uniform over the moraine. Observed faster-than-inear growth of moraine widths with distance reflects the increasing ablation rate down-glacier. Increase in medial moraine cover reduces the local average ablation rate, allowing the glacier to extend further down-valley than meteorology alone would suggest. This feedback is especially effective when moraines merge.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2000

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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