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Glacier motion dominated by processes deep in underlying till

  • M. Truffer (a1), W. D. Harrison (a1) and K. A. Echelmeyer (a1)


Black Rapids Glacier is a 40 km long surge-type glacier in the central Alaska Range. In spring 1997 a wireline drill rig was set up at a location where the measured surface velocities are high and seasonal and annual velocity variations are large. The drilling revealed a layer of subglacial “till”, up to 7 m thick, that is believed to be water-saturated. At one location a string of instruments, containing three dual-axis tiltmeters and one piezometer, was successfully introduced into the till. The tiltmeters monitored the inclination of the borehole at the ice–till interface and at 1 and 2 m into the till, for 410 days. They showed that no significant deformation occurred in the upper 2 m of the till layer, and no significant amount of the basal motion was due to sliding of the ice over the till. The measured surface velocity at the drill site is about 60 m a−1, of which 20–30 m a can be accounted for by ice deformation. Almost the entire amount of basal motion, 30–40 m a−1, was taken up at a depth of > 2 m in the till, possibly in discrete shear layers, or as sliding of till over the underlying bedrock. We propose that the large-scale mobilization of such till layers is a key factor in initiating glacier surges.

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