Waterfall ice: mechanical stability of vertical structures

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We present a study of the mechanical (in)stability of the ephemeral waterfall ice structures that form from the freezing of liquid water seeping on steep rock. Three vertical structures were studied, two near Glacier d'Argentière, France, and one in the Valsavarenche valley, northern Italy. The generation of internal stresses in the ice structure in relation to air- and ice-temperature conditions is analyzed from pressure sensor records. Their role in the mechanical instability of the structures is discussed from a photographic survey of these structures. The main result is that dramatic air cooling (several °C h–1 over several hours) and low temperatures (<–10°C), generating tensile stresses and brittleness, can trigger a spontaneous or climber-induced mechanical collapse, leading to unfavorable climbing conditions. Ice internal pressure fluctuations are also associated with episodes of marked diurnal air-temperature cycle, with mild days (few °C above 0°C) and cool nights (few °C below 0°C), through the occurrence of water ↔ ice phase transitions within the structure. These ice internal stress fluctuations seem, however, to have a local influence, are associated with warm (near 0°C), wet and therefore particularly soft ice and do not trigger a collapse of the structure.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3189/002214311796905587

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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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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