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Thermally controlled glacier surging

  • A. C. Fowler (a1), Tavi Murray (a2) and F. S. L. Ng (a1)


Bakaninbreen in Svalbard and Trapridge Glacier in Yukon Territory, Canada, are two prominent examples of surging glaciers which are thought to be controlled by their thermal regime. Both glaciers have developed large bulges which have propagated forward as travelling wave fronts, and which are thought to divide relatively stagnant downstream cold-based ice from faster-moving warm-based upstream ice. Additionally, both glaciers are underlain by a wet, metres thick layer of deforming till. We develop a simple model for the cyclic surging behaviour of these glaciers, which interrelates the motion of the ice and till through a description of the subglacial hydrology. We find that oscillations (surges) can occur if the subglacial hydrological transmissivity is sufficiently low and the till layer is sufficiently thin, and we suggest that these oscillations are associated with the development and propagation of a travelling wave front down the glacier. We therefore interpret the travelling wave fronts on both Trapridge Glacier and Bakaninbreen as manifestations of surges. In addition, we find that the violence of the surge in the model is associated with the resistance to ice flow offered by undulations in the bed, and the efficiency with which occasional hydrological events can release water accumulated at the glacier sole.

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Journal of Glaciology
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