Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Seasonal variations of glacier seismicity at the tongue of Rhonegletscher (Switzerland) with a focus on basal icequakes


Fractured systems developing at the base of temperate glaciers play a significant role in the transport of subglacial water. Their influence on dynamics and hydraulics of glaciers and the seasonal alterations they experience during the hydrological year, remain however, poorly understood, as they lay beyond the reach of most conventional glaciological techniques. In this work, we investigate the seasonal evolution of glacier seismicity in the ablation zone of Rhonegletscher (Switzerland) and focus on basal fracture processes. To do this, we use seismic measurements performed between June 2012 and July 2013 and complementary measurements of surface motion and changes in melt water input inferred from degree day modeling. Results of a spectrogram analysis highlight predominant seismic emissions until end of October 2012 and from mid April 2013 in line with measured surface velocities, and indicate a rapid adaptation of the basal drainage system at initiation and end of the winter period. The analysis of icequakes emitted from two active regions shows that the basal events, due to opening and closing of cracks within fracture networks, persist after winter initiation, and points out the year-long preservation of the associated sources. In this regard, we deduce that basal crack networks aseismically evolve during the winter period.

  • 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.

      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.

      Seasonal variations of glacier seismicity at the tongue of Rhonegletscher (Switzerland) with a focus on basal icequakes
      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 Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Seasonal variations of glacier seismicity at the tongue of Rhonegletscher (Switzerland) with a focus on basal icequakes
      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 Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Seasonal variations of glacier seismicity at the tongue of Rhonegletscher (Switzerland) with a focus on basal icequakes
      Available formats
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Corresponding author
Correspondence: Pierre Dalban Canassy <>
Hide All
Allen RV (1978) Automatic earthquake recognition and timing from single traces. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am., 68(5), 15211532
Anandakrishnan S and Alley RB (1997) Tidal forcing of basal seismicity of ice stream C, West Antarctica, observed far inland. J. Geophys. Res., 102(B7), 1518315196
Anderson RS and 6 others (2004) Strong feedbacks between hydrology and sliding of a small Alpine glacier. J. Geophys. Res., 109, F03005 (doi: 10.1029/2004JF000120)
Andrews L and 7 others (2014) Direct observations of evolving subglacial drainage beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet. Nature 514(7520), 8083
Bartholomaus TC, Anderson RS and Anderson SP (2008) Glacier sliding response to transient water storage. Nat. Geosci., 1, 3337
Bartholomew I and 5 others (2010) Seasonal evolution of subglacial drainage and acceleration in a Greenland outlet glacier. Nat. Geosci., 3(6), 408411
Blindow N (2009) The University of Munster Airborne Ice Radar (UMAIR): instrumentation and first results of temperate and polythermal glaciers, paper presented at 5th International Workshop on Advanced Ground Penetrating Radar, Granada
Chen G (1998) Positioning for the airborne laser altimetry at Long Valley . (PhD thesis, MIT, California)
Curtis A and Lomax A (2001) Prior information, sampling distributions, and the curse of dimensionality. Geophysics, 66(2), 372378
Dalban Canassy P and 7 others (2011) Hazard assessment investigations due to recent changes in Triftgletscher, Bernese Alps, Switzerland. Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 11(8), 21492162
Dalban Canassy P, Faillettaz J, Walter F and Huss M (2012) Seismic activity and surface motion of a steep temperate glacier: a study on Triftgletscher, Switzerland. J. Glaciol., 58(209) (doi: 10.3189/2012JoG11J104)
Dalban Canassy P and 5 others (2013) Investigating the dynamics of an Alpine glacier using probabilistic icequake locations: Triftgletscher, Switzerland. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 118(4), 20032018
Das SB and 6 others (2008) Fracture propagation to the base of the greenland ice sheet during Supraglacial lake drainage. Science, 320 (doi: 10.1126/science.1153360)
Deichmann N and 5 others (2000) Evidence for deep icequakes in an Alpine glacier. Ann. Glaciol., 31, 8590
Faillettaz J, Pralong A, Funk M and Deichmann N (2008) Evidence of log-periodic oscillations and increasing icequake activity during the breaking-off of large ice masses. J. Glaciol., 54(187), 725737
Farinotti D, Huss M, Bauder A and Funk M (2009a) An estimate of the glacier ice volume in the Swiss Alps. Glob. Planet. Change, 68(3), 225231
Farinotti D, Huss M, Bauder A, Funk M and Truffer M (2009b) A method to estimate ice volume and ice thickness distribution of alpine glaciers. J. Glaciol., 55(151), 422430
Fountain AG, Jacobel RW, Schlichting R and Jansson P (2005) Fractures as the main pathways of water flow in temperate glaciers. Nature, 433(7026), 618621
Gabbi J, Carenzo M, Pellicciotti F, Bauder A and Funk M (2014) A comparison of empirical and physically-based glacier surface melt models for long-term simulations of glacier response. J. Glaciol., 60(224), 11401154.
Gabbud C, Rüttimann S, Micheletti N, Irvings J and Lane S (2015) Analysis of subglacial hydrodynamics and ice dynamics through combined terrestrial laser scanning and ground penetrating radar survey. EGU General Assembly Conference Abstracts, vol. 17, 2591
Gischig V (2007) Seismic investigations on Gornergletscher, Diplomarbeit, Abteilung für Glaziologie. VAW, ETH–Zürich
Gulley J and 5 others (2012) The effect of discrete recharge by moulins and heterogeneity in flow-path efficiency at glacier beds on subglacial hydrology. J. Glaciol., 58(211), 926940
Harbor J and 5 others (1997) Influence of subglacial drainage conditions on the velocity distribution within a glacier cross section. Geology, 25(8), 739742
Harper J, Bradford J, Humphrey N and Meierbachtol T (2010) Vertical extension of the subglacial drainage system into basal crevasses. Nature, 467(7315), 579582
Helmstetter A, Nicolas B, Comon P and Gay M (2015) Basal icequakes recorded beneath an Alpine glacier (Glacier d'Argentière, Mont Blanc, France): evidence for stick-slip motion? J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 120(3), 379401.
Hock R, Iken A and Wangler A (1999) Tracer experiments and borehole observations in the overdeepening of Aletschgletscher, Switzerland. Ann. Glaciol., 28, 253260
Husen S and Hardebeck JL (2010) Earthquake location accuracy. Community Online Resource for Statistical Seismicity Analysis, 10
Husen S and 5 others (2003) Probabilistic earthquake location in complex three dimensional velocity models: application to Switzerland. J. Geophys. Res., 108(B2) (doi: 10.1029/2002JB001778)
Iken A and Bindschadler RA (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
Iken A and Truffer M (1997) The relationship between subglacial water pressure and velocity of Findelengletscher, Switzerland, during its advance and retreat. J. Glaciol., 43(144), 328333
Jones GA, Kulessa B, Doyle S, Dow CF and Hubbard A (2013) An automated approach to the location of icequakes using seismic waveform amplitudes. Ann. Glaciol., 54(64), 19
Kavanaugh JL and Clarke GKC (2001) Abrupt glacier motion and reorganization of basal shear stress following the establishment of a connected drainage system. J. Glaciol., 47(158), 472480
King M (2004) Rigorous GPS data-processing strategies for glaciological applications. J. Glaciol., 50(171), 601607
Lawrence W St and Quamar A (1979) Hydraulic transient: a seismic source in volcanoes and glaciers. Science, 203(4381), 654656 (doi: 10.1126/science.203.4381.654)
Lomax A, Virieux J, Volant P and Berge-Thierry C (2000) Probabilistic earthquake location in 3D and layered models. Modern Approaches Geophys., 18, 101134
Macgregor K, Riihimaki C and Anderson R (2005) Spatial and temporal evolution of rapid basal sliding on Bench Glacier, Alaska, USA. J. Glaciol., 51(172), 4963
Métaxian J, Araujo S, Mora M and Lesage P (2003) Seismicity related to the glacier of Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador. Geophys. Res. Lett., 30(9) (doi: 10.1029/2002GL016773)
Mikesell TD and 5 others (2012) Monitoring glacier surface seismicity in time and space using Rayleigh waves. J. Geophys. Res., 117 (doi: 10.1029/2011JF002259)
Moser TJ, Van Eck T and Nolet G (1992) Hypocenter determination in strongly heterogeneous earth models using the shortest path method. J. Geophys. Res., 97(B5), 65636572
Neave KG and Savage JC (1970) Icequakes on the Athabasca Glacier. J. Geophys. Res., 75(8), 13511362
O'Neel S, Marshall HP, McNamara DE and Pfeffer WT (2007) Seismic detection and analysis of icequakes at Columbia Glacier, Alaska. J. Geophys. Res., 112, f03S23 (doi: 10.1029/2006JF000595)
Pellicciotti F and 5 others (2005) An enhanced temperature-index glacier melt model including the shortwave radiation balance: development and testing for Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Switzerland. J. Glaciol., 51(175), 573587
Rial J, Tang C and Steffen K (2009) Glacial rumblings from Jakobshavn ice stream, Greenland. J. Glaciol., 55(191), 389399
Riesen P, Strozzi T, Bauder A, Wiesmann A and Funk M (2011) Short-term surface ice motion variations measured with a ground-based portable real aperture radar interferometer. J. Glaciol., 57(201), 5360
Roeoesli C and 6 others (2014) Sustained seismic tremors and icequakes detected in the ablation zone of the Greenland ice sheet. J. Glaciol., 60(221), 563
Röthlisberger H (1972) Water pressure in intra– and subglacial channels. J. Glaciol., 11(62), 177203
Roux PF, Marsan D, Métaxian JP, O'Brien G and Moreau L (2008) Microseismic activity within a serac zone in an Alpine glacier (glacier d'Argentière, Mont Blanc, France). J. Glaciol., 54(184), 157168
Schaff D (2008) Semiempirical statistics of correlation-detector performance. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am., 98(3), 14951507
Schoof C (2010) Ice-sheet acceleration driven by melt supply variability. Nature, 468(7325), 803806
Stein S and Wysession M (2009) An introduction to seismology, earthquakes, and earth structure. John Wiley & Sons
Stuart G, Murray T, Brisbourne A, Styles P and Toon S (2005) Seismic emissions from a surging glacier: Bakaninbreen Svalbard. Ann. Glaciol., 42, 151157
Tarantola A and Valette B (1982) Inverse problems quest for information. J. Geophys., 50(3), 150170
Tsutaki S, Sugiyama S, Nishimura D and Funk M (2013) Acceleration and flotation of a glacier terminus during formation of a proglacial lake in Rhonegletscher, Switzerland. J. Glaciol., 59(215), 559570
Van der Veen CJ (1998) Fracture mechanics approach to penetration of bottom crevasses on glaciers. Cold Region Sci. Technol., 27(3), 213223
Walder JS (1982) Stability of sheet flow of water beneath temperate glaciers and implications for glacier surging. J. Glaciol., 28(99), 273293
Walter F, Deichmann N and Funk M (2008) Basal icequakes during changing subglacial water pressures beneath Gornergletscher, Switzerland. J. Glaciol., 54(186), 511532
Walter F and 5 others (2009) Moment tensor inversion of icequakes on Gorner gletscher, Switzerland. Bull. Seismol. Soc. Am., 99(2A), 852870
Walter F, Dalban Canassy P, Husen S and Clinton J (2013) Deep icequakes: what happens at the base of Alpine glaciers? J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 118(3), 17201728
Werder M, Hewitt I, Schoof C and Flowers G (2013) Modeling channelized and distributed subglacial drainage in two dimensions. J. Geophys. Res.: Earth Surf., 118(4), 21402158
West ME, Larsen CF, Truffer M, O'Neel S and LeBlanc L (2010) Glacier microseismicity. Geology, 38, 319322 (doi: 10.1130/G30606.1)
Wiens DA, Anandakrishnan S, Winberry JP and King MA (2008) Simultaneous teleseismic and geodetic observations of the stick-slip motion of an Antarctic ice stream. Nature, 453, 770775 (doi: 10.1038/nature06990)
Winberry JP, Anandakrishnan S, Alley RB, Bindschadler RA and King MA (2009) Basal mechanics of ice streams: insights from the stick-slip motion of Whillans Ice Stream, West Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res., 114
Zoet L, Anandakrishnan S, Alley R, Nyblade A and Wiens D (2012) Motion of an Antarctic glacier by repeated tidally modulated earthquakes. Nat. Geosci., 5, 623626 (doi: 10.1038/ngeo1555)
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: 7
Total number of PDF views: 174 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 163 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.