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Short-term velocity variations and sliding sensitivity of a slowly surging glacier

  • Gwenn E. Flowers (a1), Alexander H. Jarosch (a2), Patrick T. A. P. Belliveau (a1) and Lucas A. Fuhrman (a1)

We use daily surface velocities measured over several weeks in 2007 and 2008 on a slowly surging glacier in Yukon, Canada, to examine the ordinary melt-season dynamics in the context of the ongoing surge. Horizontal velocities within and just below the ~1.5 km-long zone of fastest flow, where the surge is occurring, are often correlated during intervals of low melt. This correlation breaks down during melt events, with the lower reaches of the fast-flow zone responding first. Velocity variability in this lower reach is most highly correlated with melt; velocities above and below appear to respond at least as strongly to the velocity variations of this reach as to local melt. GPS height records are suggestive of ice/bed separation occurring in the fast-flow zone but not below it, pointing to a hydrological cause for the short-term flow variability in the surging region. Independent velocity measurements over 6 years show a maximum July flow anomaly coincident with the location most responsive to melt. Results from a simple model of dashpots and frictional elements lend support to the hypothesis that this zone partly drives the dynamics of the ice above and below it. We speculate that the slow surge may enhance glacier sensitivity to melt-season processes, including short-term summer sliding events.

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