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Englacial drainage systems formed by hydrologically driven crevasse propagation

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Recent work has shown that surface-to-bed drainage systems re-form annually on parts of the Greenland ice sheet and some High Arctic glaciers, leading to speed-up events soon after the onset of summer melt. Surface observations and geophysical data indicate that such systems form by hydrologically driven fracture propagation (herein referred to as 'hydrofracturing'), although little is known about their characteristics. Using speleological techniques, we have explored and surveyed englacial drainage systems formed by hydrofracturing in glaciers in Svalbard, Nepal and Alaska. In Hansbreen, Svalbard, vertical shafts were followed through ∼60 m of cold ice and ∼10 m of temperate basal ice to a subglacial conduit. Deep hydrofracturing occurred at this site due to a combination of extensional ice flow and abundant surface meltwater at a glacier confluence. The englacial drainage systems in Khumbu Glacier, Nepal, and Matanuska Glacier, Alaska, USA, formed in areas of longitudinal compression and transverse extension and consist of vertical slots that plunge down-glacier at angles of 55° or less. The occurrence of englacial drainages initiated by hydrofracturing in diverse glaciological regimes suggests that it is a very widespread process, and that surface-to-bed drainage can occur wherever high meltwater supply coincides with ice subjected to sufficiently large tensile stresses.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2009

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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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