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      Glacier surge mechanism based on linked cavity configuration of the basal water conduit system

      Journal of Geophysical Research

      American Geophysical Union (AGU)

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          Glacier surge mechanism: 1982-1983 surge of variegated glacier, alaska.

          The hundredfold speedup in glacier motion in a surge of the kind the kind that took place in Variegated Glacier in 1982-1983 is caused by the buildup of high water pressure in the basal passageway system, which is made possible by a fundamental and pervasive change in the geometry and water-transport characteristics of this system. The behavior of the glacier in surge has many remarkable features, which can provide clues to a detailed theory of the surging process. The surge mechanism is akin to a proposed mechanism of overthrust faulting.
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            Water Pressure in Intra- and Subglacial Channels

            Water flowing in tubular channels inside a glacier produces frictional heat, which causes melting of the ice walls. However the channels also have a tendency to close under the overburden pressure. Using the equilibrium equation that at every cross-section as much ice is melted as flows in, differential equations are given for steady flow in horizontal, inclined and vertical channels at variable depth and for variable discharge, ice properties and channel roughness. It is shown that the pressure decreases with increasing discharge, which proves that water must flow in main arteries. The same argument is used to show that certain glacier lakes above long flat valley glaciers must form in times of low discharge and empty when the discharge is high, i.e. when the water head in the subglacial drainage system drops below the lake level. Under the conditions of the model an ice mass of uniform thickness does not float, i.e. there is no water layer at the bottom, when the bed is inclined in the down-hill direction, but it can float on a horizontal bed if the exponent n of the law for the ice creep is small. It is further shown that basal streams (bottom conduits) and lateral streams at the hydraulic grade line (gradient conduits) can coexist. Time-dependent flow, local topography, ice motion, and sediment load are not accounted for in the theory, although they may strongly influence the actual course of the water. Computations have been carried out for the Gornergletscher where the bed topography is known and where some data are available on subglacial water pressure.
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              Movement of Water in Glaciers

               R. Shreve (1972)
              A network of passages situated along three-grain intersections enables water to percolate through temperate glacier ice. The deformability of the ice allows the passages to expand and contract in response to changes in pressure, and melting of the passage walls by heat generated by viscous dissipation and carried by above-freezing water causes the larger passages gradually to increase in size at the expense of the smaller ones. Thus, the behavior of the passages is primarily the result of three basic characteristics: (1) the capacity of the system continually adjusts, though not instantly, to fluctuations in the supply of melt water; (2) the direction of movement of the water is determined mainly by the ambient pressure in the ice, which in turn is governed primarily by the slope of the ice surface and secondarily by the local topography of the glacier bed; and, most important, (3) the network of passages tends in time to become arborescent, with a superglacial part much like an ordinary river system in a karst region, an englacial part comprised of tree-like systems of passages penetrating the ice from bed to surface, and a subglacial part consisting of tunnels in the ice carrying water and sediment along the glacier bed. These characteristics indicate that a sheet-like basal water layer under a glacier would normally be unstable, the stable form being tunnels; and they explain, among other things, why ice-marginal melt-water streams and lakes are so common, why eskers, which are generally considered to have formed in subglacial passages, trend in the general direction of ice flow with a tendency to follow valley floors and to cross divides at their lowest points, why they are typically discontinuous where they cross ridge crests, why they sometimes contain fragments from bedrock outcrops near the esker but not actually crossed by it, and why they seem to be formed mostly during the later stages of glaciation.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                JGREA2
                Journal of Geophysical Research
                J. Geophys. Res.
                American Geophysical Union (AGU)
                0148-0227
                1987
                1987
                : 92
                : B9
                : 9083
                Article
                10.1029/JB092iB09p09083
                © 1987
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