• Deglacierization of a marginal basin and implications for outburst floods

      Kienholz, Christian; Pierce, Jamie; Hood, Eran; Amundson, Jason M.; Wolken, Gabriel; Jacobs, Aaron; Hart, Skye; Jones, Katreen Wikstrom; Abdel-Fattah, Dina; Johnson, Crane; et al. (Frontiers in Earth Science, 2020-05-27)
      Suicide Basin is a partly glacierized marginal basin of Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska, that has released glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs) annually since 2011. The floods cause inundation and erosion in the Mendenhall Valley, impacting homes and other infrastructure. Here, we utilize in-situ and remote sensing data to assess the recent evolution and current state of Suicide Basin. We focus on the 2018 and 2019 melt seasons, during which we collected most of our data, partly using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). To provide longer-term context, we analyze DEMs collected since 2006 and model glacier surface mass balance over the 2006–2019 period. During the 2018 and 2019 outburst flood events, Suicide Basin released ∼ 30 Å~ 106 m3 of water within approximately 4–5 days. Since lake drainage was partial in both years, these ∼ 30 Å~ 106 m3 represent only a fraction (∼ 60%) of the basin’s total storage capacity. In contrast to previous years, subglacial drainage was preceded by supraglacial outflow over the ice dam, which lasted ∼ 1 day in 2018 and 6 days in 2019. Two large calving events occurred in 2018 and 2019, with submerged ice breaking off the main glacier during lake filling, thereby increasing the basin’s storage capacity. In 2018, the floating ice in the basin was 36 m thick on average. In 2019, ice thickness was 29 m, suggesting rapid decay of the ice tongue despite increasing ice inflow from Mendenhall Glacier. The ice dam at the basin entrance thinned by more than 5 m a–1 from 2018 to 2019, which is approximately double the rate of the reference period 2006–2018. While ice-dam thinning reduces water storage capacity in the basin, that capacity is increased by declining ice volume in the basin and longitudinal lake expansion, with the latter process challenging to predict. The potential for premature drainage onset (i.e., drainage before the lake’s storage capacity is reached), intermittent drainage decelerations, and early drainage termination further complicates prediction of future GLOF events.
    • Formation, flow and break-up of ephemeral ice mélange at LeConte Glacier and Bay, Alaska.

      Amundson, Jason M.; Kienholz, Christian; Hager, Alexander O.; Jackson, Rebecca H.; Motyka, Roman J.; Nash, Jonathan D.; Sutherland, David A. (Cambridge University Press, 2020-05-14)
      Ice mélange has been postulated to impact glacier and fjord dynamics through a variety of mechanical and thermodynamic couplings. However, observations of these interactions are very limited. Here, we report on glaciological and oceanographic data that were collected from 2016 to 2017 at LeConte Glacier and Bay, Alaska, and serendipitously captured the formation, flow and break-up of ephemeral ice mélange. Sea ice formed overnight in mid-February. Over the subsequent week, the sea ice and icebergs were compacted by the advancing glacier terminus, after which the ice mélange flowed quasi-statically. The presence of ice mélange coincided with the lowest glacier velocities and frontal ablation rates in our record. In early April, increasing glacier runoff and the formation of a sub-ice-mélange plume began to melt and pull apart the ice mélange. The plume, outgoing tides and large calving events contributed to its break-up, which took place over a week and occurred in pulses. Unlike observations from elsewhere, the loss of ice mélange integrity did not coincide with the onset of seasonal glacier retreat. Our observations provide a challenge to ice mélange models aimed at quantifying the mechanical and thermodynamic couplings between ice mélange, glaciers and fjords.
    • Morainal Bank Evolution and Impact on Terminus Dynamics During a Tidewater Glacier Stillstand

      Eidam, E. F.; Sutherland, D. A.; Duncan, D.; Kienholz, Christian; Amundson, Jason M.; Motyka, R. J. (American Geophysical Union, 2020-09-25)
      Sedimentary processes are known to help facilitate tidewater glacier advance, but their role in modulating retreat is uncertain and poorly quantified. In this study we use repeated seafloor bathymetric surveys and satellite‐derived terminus positions from LeConte Glacier, Alaska, to evaluate the evolution of a morainal bank and related changes in terminus dynamics over a 17‐year period. The glacier experienced a rapid retreat between 1994 and 1999, before stabilizing at a constriction in the fjord. Since then, the glacier terminus has remained stabilized while constructing a morainal bank up to 140 m high in water depths of 240–260 m, with rates of sediment delivery of 3.3 Å~ 105 to 3.8 Å~ 105 m3 a−1. Based on repeated interannual surveys between 2016 and 2018, the moraine is a dynamic feature characterized by push ridges, evidence of active gravity flows, and bulldozing by the glacier at rates of up to meters per day. Beginning in 2016, the summertime terminus has become increasingly retracted, revealing a newly emerging basin potentially signaling the onset of renewed retreat. Between 2000 and 2016, the growing moraine reduced the exposed submarine area of the terminus by up to 22%, altered the geometry of the terminus during seasonal advances, and altered the terminus stress balance. These feedbacks for calving, melting, and ice flow likely represent mechanisms whereby moraine growth may delay glacier retreat, in a system where readvance is unlikely.
    • Tracking icebergs with time-lapse photography and sparse optical flow, LeConte Bay, Alaska, 2016–2017

      Kienholz, Christian; Amundson, Jason M.; Motyka, Roman J.; Jackson, Rebecca H.; Mickett, John B.; Sutherland, David A.; Nash, Jonathan D.; Winters, Dylan S.; Dryer, William P.; Truffer, Martin (Journal of Glaciology, 2019-03-07)
      We present a workflow to track icebergs in proglacial fjords using oblique time-lapse photos and the Lucas-Kanade optical flow algorithm. We employ the workflow at LeConte Bay, Alaska, where we ran five time-lapse cameras between April 2016 and September 2017, capturing more than 400 000 photos at frame rates of 0.5–4.0 min−1. Hourly to daily average velocity fields in map coordinates illustrate dynamic currents in the bay, with dominant downfjord velocities (exceeding 0.5 m s−1 intermittently) and several eddies. Comparisons with simultaneous Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) measurements yield best agreement for the uppermost ADCP levels (∼ 12 m and above), in line with prevalent small icebergs that trace near-surface currents. Tracking results from multiple cameras compare favorably, although cameras with lower frame rates (0.5 min−1) tend to underestimate high flow speeds. Tests to determine requisite temporal and spatial image resolution confirm the importance of high image frame rates, while spatial resolution is of secondary importance. Application of our procedure to other fjords will be successful if iceberg concentrations are high enough and if the camera frame rates are sufficiently rapid (at least 1 min−1 for conditions similar to LeConte Bay).