• 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.
    • Testing a glacial erosion rule using hang heights of hanging valleys, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

      Amundson, Jason M.; Iverson, N. R. (American Geophysical Union, 2006)
      In most models of glacial erosion, glacier sliding velocity is hypothesized to control rates of bedrock erosion. If this hypothesis is correct, then the elevation difference between hanging and trunk valley floors, the hang height, should be dictated by the relative sliding velocities of the glaciers that occupied these valleys. By considering sliding velocity to be proportional to balance velocity and using mass continuity, hang height is expressed in terms of glacier catchment areas, slopes, and widths, which can be estimated for past glaciers from the morphology of glacial valleys. These parameters were estimated for 46 hanging valleys and their trunk valleys in three adjacent regions of Jasper National Park. The variability in valley morphology can account for 55–85% of the hang height variability if erosion rate scales with balance velocity raised to a power of 1/3. This correspondence is in spite of spatial variations in glaciation duration, snow accumulation rates, and other variables that likely affected hang heights but cannot be readily estimated and so are not included in our formulation. Thus it appears that balance velocity, and by extension, sliding velocity if the two are proportional, may be a reasonable control variable for assessing erosion rate.