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Acceleration and flotation of a glacier terminus during formation of a proglacial lake in Rhonegletscher, Switzerland

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In 2005 the ongoing retreat of Rhonegletscher, Switzerland, led to the formation of a proglacial lake. To investigate the influence of proglacial lake formation on the dynamics and evolution of glaciers, we measured horizontal flow velocity, vertical ice motion and water levels in boreholes with high spatial resolutions during the summer seasons of 2007–09. Annual flow speeds near the terminus increased by a factor of 2.7 from 2005/06 to 2007/08, and exceeded 20 m a–1 in 2009. The velocity increased towards the glacier front, indicating that the ice was thinning under a longitudinally stretching flow regime. Our observations show that the increase in flow speed near the terminus was due to increases in basal motion as a result of ice thinning. During summer 2009, the ice surface at the terminus moved vertically upwards by up to 4.69 m as the ice began to float on the lake. The observed ice motion can be explained by the upward bending of marginal ice and the formation of faults that cut through the entire ice thickness. We predict that if the current ice thinning continues, the basal water pressure will exceed the pressure exerted by the ice overburden, and the glacier will progressively disintegrate over an expanding area.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: July 1, 2013

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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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