• Seismic Tremor Reveals Spatial Organization and Temporal Changes of Subglacial Water System

      Vore, Margot E.; Bartholomaus, Timothy, C.; Winberry, J. Paul; Walter, Jacob I.; Amundson, Jason M. (American Geophysical Union, 2019-02-09)
      Subglacial water flow impacts glacier dynamics and shapes the subglacial environment. However, due to the challenges of observing glacier beds, the spatial organization of subglacial water systems and the time scales of conduit evolution and migration are largely unknown. To address these questions, we analyze 1.5‐ to 10‐Hz seismic tremor that we associate with subglacial water flow, that is, glaciohydraulic tremor, at Taku Glacier, Alaska, throughout the 2016 melt season. We use frequency‐dependent polarization analysis to estimate glaciohydraulic tremor propagation direction (related to the subglacial conduit location) and a degree day melt model to monitor variations in melt‐water input. We suggest that conduit formation requires sustained water input and that multiconduit flow paths can be distinguished from single‐conduit flow paths. Theoretical analysis supports our seismic interpretations that subglacial discharge likely flows through a single‐conduit in regions of steep hydraulic potential gradients but may be distributed among multiple conduits in regions with shallower potential gradients. Seismic tremor in regions with multiple conduits evolves through abrupt jumps between stable configurations that last 3–7 days, while tremor produced by single‐conduit flow remains more stationary. We also find that polarized glaciohydraulic tremor wave types are potentially linked to the distance from source to station and that multiple peak frequencies propagate from a similar direction. Tremor appears undetectable at distances beyond 2–6 km from the source. This new understanding of the spatial organization and temporal development of subglacial conduits informs our understanding of dynamism within the subglacial hydrologic system.
    • Subglacial discharge at tidewater glaciers revealed by seismic tremor

      Bartholomaus, Timothy C.; Amundson, Jason M.; Walter, Jacob I.; O'Neel, Shad; West, Michael E.; Larsen, Christopher F. (American Geophysical Union, 2015-08-10)
      Subglacial discharge influences glacier basal motion and erodes and redeposits sediment. At tidewater glacier termini, discharge drives submarine terminus melting, affects fjord circulation, and is a central component of proglacial marine ecosystems. However, our present inability to track subglacial discharge and its variability significantly hinders our understanding of these processes. Here we report observations of hourly to seasonal variations in 1.5–10 Hz seismic tremor that strongly correlate with subglacial discharge but not with basal motion, weather, or discrete icequakes. Our data demonstrate that vigorous discharge occurs from tidewater glaciers during summer, in spite of fast basal motion that could limit the formation of subglacial conduits, and then abates during winter. Furthermore, tremor observations and a melt model demonstrate that drainage efficiency of tidewater glaciers evolves seasonally. Glaciohydraulic tremor provides a means by which to quantify subglacial discharge variations and offers a promising window into otherwise obscured glacierized environments.
    • Subseasonal changes observed in subglacial channel pressure, size, and sediment transport

      Gimbert, Florent; Tsai, Victor C.; Amundson, Jason M.; Bartholomaus, Timothy, C.; Walter, Jacob I. (American Geophysical Union, 2016-04-07)
      Water that pressurizes the base of glaciers and ice sheets enhances glacier velocities and modulates glacial erosion. Predicting ice flow and erosion therefore requires knowledge of subglacial channel evolution, which remains observationally limited. Here we demonstrate that detailed analysis of seismic ground motion caused by subglacial water flow at Mendenhall Glacier (Alaska) allows for continuous measurement of daily to subseasonal changes in basal water pressure gradient, channel size, and sediment transport. We observe intermittent subglacial water pressure gradient changes during the melt season, at odds with common assumptions of slowly varying, low-pressure channels. These observations indicate that changes in channel size do not keep pace with changes in discharge. This behavior strongly affects glacier dynamics and subglacial channel erosion at Mendenhall Glacier, where episodic periods of high water pressure gradients enhance glacier surface velocity and channel sediment transport by up to 30% and 50%, respectively. We expect the application of this framework to future seismic observations acquired at glaciers worldwide to improve our understanding of subglacial processes.