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Geophysical imaging of alpine rock glaciers

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Slope instabilities caused by the disappearance of ice within alpine rock glaciers are an issue of increasing concern. Design of suitable counter-measures requires detailed knowledge of the internal structures of rock glaciers, which can be obtained using geophysical methods. We examine benefits and limitations of diffusive electromagnetics, geoelectrics, seismics and ground-penetrating radar (georadar) for determining the depth and lateral variability of the active layer, the distributions of ice and water, the occurrence of shear horizons and the bedrock topography. In particular, we highlight new developments in data acquisition and data analysis that allow 2-D or even 3-D structures within rock glaciers to be imaged. After describing peculiarities associated with acquiring appropriate geophysical datasets across rock glaciers and emphasizing the importance of state-of-the-art tomographic inversion algorithms, we demonstrate the applicability of 2-D imaging techniques using two case studies of rock glaciers in the eastern Swiss Alps. We present joint interpretations of geoelectric, seismic and georadar data, appropriately constrained by information extracted from boreholes. A key conclusion of our study is that the different geophysical images are largely complementary, with each image resolving a different suite of subsurface features. Based on our results, we propose a general template for the cost-effective and reliable geophysical characterization of mountain permafrost.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2007

More about this publication?
  • 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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