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Basal icequakes during changing subglacial water pressures beneath Gornergletscher, Switzerland

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Using dense networks of three-component seismometers installed in direct contact with the ice, the seismic activity of Gornergletscher, Switzerland, was investigated during the summers of 2004 and 2006, as subglacial water pressures varied drastically. These pressure variations are due to the diurnal cycle of meltwater input as well as the subglacial drainage of Gornersee, a nearby marginal ice-dammed lake. Up to several thousand seismic signals per day were recorded. Whereas most icequakes are due to surface crevasse openings, about 200 events have been reliably located close to the glacier bed. These basal events tend to occur in clusters and have signals with impulsive first arrivals. At the same time, basal water pressures and ice-surface velocities were measured to capture the impact of the lake drainage on the subglacial hydrological system and the ice-flow dynamics. Contrary to our expectations, we did not observe an increase of basal icequake activity as the lake emptied, thereby raising the subglacial water pressures close to the flotation level for several days. In fact, the basal icequakes were usually recorded during the morning hours, when the basal water pressure was either low or decreasing. During the high-pressure period caused by the drainage of the lake, no basal icequakes were observed. Furthermore, GPS measurements showed that the glacier surface was lowering during the basal seismic activity. These observations lead us to conclude that such icequakes are connected to the diurnal variation in glacier sliding across the glacier bed.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: July 1, 2008

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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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