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Flow and structure in a dendritic glacier with bedrock steps



We analyse ice flow and structural glaciology of Shackleton Glacier, a dendritic glacier with multiple icefalls in the Canadian Rockies. A major tributary-trunk junction allows us to investigate the potential of tributaries to alter trunk flow and structure, and the formation of bedrock steps at confluences. Multi-year velocity-stake data and structural glaciology up-glacier from the junction were assimilated with glacier-wide velocity derived from Radarsat-2 speckle tracking. Maximum flow speeds are 65 m a−1 in the trunk and 175 m a−1 in icefalls. Field and remote-sensing velocities are in good agreement, except where velocity gradients are high. Although compression occurs in the trunk up-glacier of the tributary entrance, glacier flux is steady state because flow speed increases at the junction due to the funnelling of trunk ice towards an icefall related to a bedrock step. Drawing on a published erosion model, we relate the heights of the step and the hanging valley to the relative fluxes of the tributary and trunk. It is the first time that an extant glacier is used to test and support such model. Our study elucidates the inherent complexity of tributary/trunk interactions and provides a conceptual model for trunk flow restriction by a tributary in surge-type glaciers.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

Correspondence: Hester Jiskoot <>


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