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Seismic detection of transient changes beneath Black Rapids Glacier, Alaska, U.S.A.: II. Basal morphology and processes

  • Matt Nolan (a1) and Keith Echelmeyer (a1)

Abstract

Using changes observed in daily seismic reflections, we have investigated the basal morphology of Black Rapids Glacier, Alaska, U.S.A. The englacial drainage of ice-marginal lakes caused significant changes in the daily reflections, as well as dramatic increases in basal motion. Changes in reflection arrival times and amplitudes indicate that there is a basal till layer at least 5 m thick at some locations beneath this surge-type glacier. Rapid changes in the observed reflection coefficients during the drainage events indicate that changes in till properties must occur throughout the entire 5 m thick layer, they must last for several days following the lake drainages and they must be completely reversible over as little as 36 min. Our seismic analysis shows that changes in effective pressure of the till are unlikely to cause the required changes in the reflection coefficients, but that a decrease in till saturation is likely. We therefore interpret the cause of the seismic anomalies as being a temporary decrease in saturation as water is input to the subglacial hydraulic system, and propose that such a change may occur quickly and reversibly by a redistribution of overburden pressure. Higher water pressures within the hydraulic system cause that region to support more of the glacier’s weight, leaving the remaining areas to support less. Any till within these areas of decreased normal stress would experience a consequent decrease in pore-water pressure, causing gas to exolve, thus decreasing saturation. This decrease in saturation would cause a change in the strength of the basal layer and may affect basal dynamics.

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References

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