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Does englacial water storage drive temperate glacier surges?

  • Craig S. Lingle (a1) and Dennis R. Fatland (a2)


Hydrological studies of surge-type and steady-flow glaciers, combined with recent space-borne synthetic aperture radar interferometry measurements of the motion of Bagley Ice Valley, Alaska, U.S.A., during its 1993–95 surge, suggest a temperate-glacier surge hypothesis that is consistent with observational evidence and appears capable of shedding light on several aspects of surge behavior. We propose that the fundamental driver of temperate-glacier surges is englacial storage of water, combined with gravity-driven movement of stored water to the bed during winter. Whether a given glacier is surge-type is a matter not of whether, but of the degree to which, these processes occur. A surge-type glacier must have sufficient storage capacity for continued downward movement of englacially stored water during winter to finally overwhelm the constricted basal drainage system, thereby forcing pervasive failure of the subglacial till — or, alternatively, widespread and rapid basal sliding — thus initiating a surge. We further propose that the “sufficient storage capacity” requirement is most easily met by glaciers with large thickness, which are therefore likely to be long and to have, on average, low surface slopes. The average length \of the surge cycle in a given region appears to be a function of the mass balances, which, after each surge, determine the time required to restore glaciers to their pre-surge geometries. We suggest that the stochastic timing of surge onset for a particular glacier, however, is a result of the uncertainty of the meteorological conditions required to cause englacial storage of a sufficiently large volume of water.

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Annals of Glaciology
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