Measurements of ice deformation at the surface and at depth in the Athabasca Glacier, Canada, reveal for the first time the pattern of flow in a nearly complete cross-section of a valley glacier, and make it possible to test the applicability of experimental and theoretical concepts in the analysis of glacier flow. Tilting in nine bore holes (eight holes essentially to the bottom at depth about 300 m) was measured with a newly developed electrical inclinometer. The new instrument permitted bore-hole configurations to be determined with greater speed and accuracy than possible with earlier methods. The measurements define the distribution of the velocity vector and the strain-rate tensor over about 70% of the area of the glacier cross-section.
The main longitudinal component of flow has the following general features: (1) basal sliding velocity which exceeds 70% of the surface velocity over half of the width of the glacier, (2) marginal sliding velocity (not more than a few meters per year) much less than basal sliding velocity at the center-line (about 40 m a-1), (3) marginal shear strain-rate near the valley walls two to three times larger than the basal shear strain-rate near the center-line (0.1 a-1).
The observed longitudinal flow is significantly different from that expected from theoretical analysis of flow in cylindrical channels (Nye, 1965). The relative strength of marginal and basal shear strain-rate is opposite to that expected from theory. In addition, the longitudinal flow velocity averaged over the glacier cross-section (which determines the flux of ice transported) is larger by 12% than the average flow velocity seen at the glacier surface, whereas it would be essentially the same if the theoretical prediction were correct. These differences are caused to a large extent by the contrast between the actual distribution of sliding velocity and the constant sliding velocity for which the theoretical analysis holds. The observed relation between marginal and basal sliding velocity is probably a general flow feature in valley glaciers, and may be caused by lateral variation of water pressure at the ice-rock contact. The observed pattern of longitudinal velocity over the section also shows in detail certain additional features incompatible with the theoretical treatment, even after the difference in boundary conditions (distribution of sliding velocity) is taken into account.
Longitudinal strain-rate (a compression of about 0.02 a-1 at the surface) decreases with depth, becoming nearly o at the bed in the center of the glacier, which confirms a prediction by Savage and Paterson (1963). The depth variation cannot be explained completely by overall bending of the ice mass as a result of a longitudinal gradient in the curvature of the bed, and is at variance with existing theories, which require the longitudinal strain-rate to be constant with depth.
Motion transverse to the longitudinal flow occurs in a roughly symmetric pattern of diverging margin-ward flow, with most of the lateral transport occurring at depth in a fashion reminiscent of extrusion flow. The observed lateral velocities averaged over depth (up to 1.9 m a-1) are compatible with the lateral flux required to maintain equilibrium of the marginal portions of the glacier surface under ablation (about 3.7 m of ice per year) and are driven by the convex lateral profile of the ice surface.