Skip to main content

Englacial drainage systems formed by hydrologically driven crevasse propagation

  • Douglas Benn (a1) (a2), Jason Gulley (a1) (a3), Adrian Luckman (a4), Artur Adamek (a5) and Piotr S. Glowacki (a6)...

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.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Englacial drainage systems formed by hydrologically driven crevasse propagation
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Englacial drainage systems formed by hydrologically driven crevasse propagation
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Englacial drainage systems formed by hydrologically driven crevasse propagation
      Available formats
Hide All
Alley, R.B., Lawson, D.E., Evenson, E.B., Strasser, J.C. and Larson, G.J.. 1998. Glaciohydraulic supercooling: a freeze-on mechanism to create stratified, debris-rich basal ice: II. Theory. J. Glaciol., 44(148), 563569.
Alley, R.B., Dupont, T.K., Parizek, B.R. and Anandakrishnan, S.. 2005. Access of surface meltwater to beds of sub-freezing glaciers: preliminary insights. Ann. Glaciol., 40, 814.
Baker, G.S., Lawson, D.E., Evenson, E.B., Larson, G.J. and Alley, R.B.. 2003. Glaciogeophysics at Matanuska Glacier, Alaska. [Abstr. C21A-05.] Eos, 84(46), Fall Meet. Suppl.
Benn, D.I., Kristensen, L. and Gulley, J.. In press. Surge propagation constrained by a persistent subglacial conduit, Bakaninbreen-Paulabreen, Svalbard. Ann. Glaciol.
Bingham, R.G., Nienow, P.W., Sharp, M.J. and Boon, S.. 2005. Subglacial drainage processes at a High Arctic polythermal valley glacier. J. Glaciol., 51(172), 1524.
Blatter, H. and Hutter, K.. 1991. Polythermal conditions in Arctic glaciers. J. Glaciol., 37(126), 261269.
Boon, S. and Sharp, M.. 2003. The role of hydrologically-driven ice fracture in drainage system evolution on an Arctic glacier. Geophys. Res. Lett., 30(18), 1916. (10.1029/2003GL018034.)
Catania, G.A., Neumann, T.A. and Price, S.F.. 2008. Characterizing englacial drainage in the ablation zone of the Greenland ice sheet. J. Glaciol., 54(187), 567578.
Chesley, T., Lawson, D.E., Ham, N. and Goetz, S.. 2005. Deformation of pro-glacial sediment due to an advancing ice margin at the Matanuska Glacier, Alaska. Geol. Soc. Am. Abstr. Prog., 37(5), 83.
Chikita, K., Jha, J. and Yamada, T.. 1999. Hydrodynamics of a supraglacial lake and its effect on the basin expansion: Tsho Rolpa, Rolwaling Valley, Nepal Himalaya. Arct. Antarct. Alp. Res., 31(1), 5870.
Copland, L., Sharp, M.J. and Nienow, P.W.. 2003. Links between short-term velocity variations and the subglacial hydrology of a predominantly cold polythermal glacier. J. Glaciol., 49(166), 337348.
Das, S.B. and 6 others. 2008. Fracture propagation to the base of the Greenland Ice Sheet during supraglacial lake drainage. Science, 320(5877), 778781.
Fountain, A.G. and Walder, J.S.. 1998. Water flow through temperate glaciers. Rev. Geophys., 36(3), 299328.
Fountain, A.G., Jacobel, R.W., Schlichting, R. and Jansson, P.. 2005.Fractures as the main pathways of water flow in temperate glaciers. Nature, 433(7026), 618621.
Gulley, J. In press. Structural control of engacial conduits in the temperate Matanuska Glacier, Alaska, USA. J. Glaciol.
Gulley, J. and Benn, D.I.. 2007. Structural control of englacial drainage systems in Himalayan debris-covered glaciers. J. Glaciol., 53(182), 399412.
Gulley, J.D., Benn, D.I., Müller, D. and Luckman, A.. 2009. A cut- and-closure origin for englacial conduits in uncrevassed regions of polythermal glaciers. J. Glaciol., 55(189), 6680.
Hagen, J.O., Korsen, O.M. and Vatne, G.. 1991. Drainage pattern in a subpolar glacier: Brøggerbreen, Svalbard. In Gjessing, Y., Hagen, J.O., Hassel, K.A., Sand, K. and Wold, B., eds. Arctic hydrology: present and future tasks. Hydrology of Svalbard – hydrological problems in a cold climate. Oslo, Norwegian National Committee for Hydrology, 121131. (Report 23.)
Hands, K.A. 2004. Downwasting and supraglacial pond evolution on the debris-mantled Ngozumpa Glacier, Khumbu Himal, Nepal. (PhD thesis, University of St Andrews.)
Hansen, O.H. 2001. Internal drainage of some subpolar glaciers on Svalbard. (MSc thesis, University of Bergen.)
Holmlund, P. 1988. Internal geometry and evolution of moulins, Storglaciären, Sweden. J. Glaciol., 34(117), 242248.
Hooke, R.LeB. 2005. Principles of glacier mechanics. Second edition. Cambridge, etc., Cambridge University Press.
Iken, A. and Bindschadler, R.A.. 1986. Combined measurements of subglacial water pressure and surface velocity of Findelengletscher, Switzerland: conclusions about drainage system and sliding mechanism. J. Glaciol., 32 (110), 101119.
Joughin, I., Das, S.B., King, M.A., Smith, B.E., Howat, I.M. and Moon, T.. 2008. Seasonal speedup along the western flank of theGreenland Ice Sheet. Science, 320(5877), 781783.
Kodama, H. and Mae, S.. 1976. Flow of glaciers in the Khumbu region. Seppyo, J. Jpn. Soc. Snow Ice, Special Issue 38, Part 1, 3136.
Lawson, D.E., Strasser, J.C., Evenson, E.B., Alley, R.B., Larson, G.J. and Arcone, S.A.. 1998. Glaciohydraulic supercooling: a freeze-on mechanism to create stratified, debris-rich basal ice. I. Field evidence. J. Glaciol., 44(148), 547562.
Mae, S. 1976. Ice temperature in the Khumbu Glacier. Seppyo, J. Jpn. Soc. Snow Ice, Special Issue 38, Part 1, 3738.
Moore, J.C. and 8 others. 1999. High-resolution hydrothermal structure of Hansbreen, Spitsbergen, mapped by ground-penetrating radar. J. Glaciol., 45(151), 524532.
Nakawo, M., Yabuki, H. and Sakai, A.. 1999. Characteristics of Khumbu Glacier, Nepal Himalaya: recent changes in the debris-covered area. Ann. Glaciol., 28, 118122.
Palli, A., Moore, J.C., Jania, J., Kolondra, L. and Glowacki, P.. 2003. The drainage pattern of two polythermal glaciers: Hansbreen and Werenskioldbreen in Svalbard. Polar Res., 22(2), 355371.
Parizek, B.R. and Alley, R.B.. 2004. Implications of increased Greenland surface melt under global-warming scenarios: ice-sheet simulations. Quat. Sci. Rev., 23(9–10), 10131027.
Pulina, M. 1984. Glacierkarst phenomena in Spitsbergen. Nor.Geogr. Tidsskr., 38(3–4), 163168.
Pulina, M. and Rehák, J.. 1991. Glacial caves in Spitsbergen. In Eraso, A., ed. Proceedings of the 1st International Symposium ofGlacier Caves and Karst in Polar Regions, 1–5 October 1990, Madrid, Spain. Madrid, Instituto Tecnológico Geominero de España, 93117.
Roberts, M.J., Russell, A.J., Tweed, F.S. and Knudsen, O.. 2000. Ice fracturing during jökulhlaups: implications for englacial flood-water routing and outlet development. Earth Surf. Process. Landf., 25(13), 14291446.
Röthlisberger, H. and Lang, H.. 1987. Glacial hydrology. In Gurnell, A.M. and Clark, M.J., eds. Glacio-fluvial sediment transfer: an alpine perspective. Chichester, etc., Wiley, 207284.
Schroeder, J. 1995. Les moulins du glacier Hans de 1988 à 1992. In Griselin, M., ed. Actes du 3e Symposium International, Cavités Glaciaires et Cryokarst en Régions Polaires et de Haute Montagne, 16 novembre 1994, Chamonix, France. Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 3139. (Annales Littéraires de l’Université de Besançon 561, Série Géographie 34.)
Schroeder, J. 1998. Hans glacier moulins observed from 1988 to 1992, Svalbard. Nor. Geogr. Tidsskr., 52(2), 7988.
Seko, K., Yabuki, H., Nakawo, M., Sakai, A., Kadota, T. and Yamada, Y.. 1998. Changing surface features of Khumbu Glacier, Nepal Himalayas revealed by SPOT images. Bull. Glacier Res. 16, 3341.
Skidmore, M.L. and Sharp, M.J.. 1999. Drainage system behaviour of a High-Arctic polythermal glacier. Ann. Glaciol., 28, 209215.
Stenborg, T. 1969. Studies of the internal drainage of glaciers. Geogr. Ann., 51A(1–2), 1341.
Van der Veen, C.J. 1998. Fracture mechanics approach to penetration of surface crevasses on glaciers. Cold Reg. Sci.Technol., 27(1), 3147.
Van der Veen, C.J. 2007. Fracture propagation as means of rapidly transferring surface meltwater to the base of glaciers. Geophys.Res. Lett., 34(1), L01501. (10.1029/2006GL028385.)
Van de Wal, R.S.W. and 6 others. 2008. Large and rapid melt-induced velocity changes in the ablation zone of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Science, 321(5885), 111113.
Vieli, A., Jania, J., Blatter, H. and Funk, M.. 2004. Short-term velocity variations on Hansbreen, a tidewater glacier in Spitsbergen. J. Glaciol., 50(170), 389398.
Wessels, R.L., Kargel, J.S. and Kieffer, H.H.. 2002. ASTER measurement of supraglacial lakes in the Mount Everest region of the Himalaya. Ann. Glaciol., 34, 399408.
Willis, I.C. 1995. Intra-annual variations in glacier motion: a review. Progr. Phys. Geogr., 19(1), 61106.
Zwally, H.J., Abdalati, W., Herring, T., Larson, K., Saba, J. and Steffen, K.. 2002. Surface melt-induced acceleration of Greenland ice-sheet flow. Science, 297(5579), 218222.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Glaciology
  • ISSN: 0022-1430
  • EISSN: 1727-5652
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-glaciology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed