In order to study, in situ, the rheology of a deforming subglacial till, various instruments were emplaced in till beneath Storglaciären, Sweden. Boreholes were used to gain access to the till beneath about 100 m of ice. Tiltmeters provided an estimate of the shear strain rate in the till. Two other instruments yielded measures of till strength. In addition, water pressures were recorded in boreholes and in the till, a computer-controlled distance meter provided an effectively continuous record of the surface velocity and data from frequent surveys of a stake network were used to estimate the mean basal drag, based on a force-balance calculation.
Tilt rates varied directly with effective pressure, so decreases in water pressure apparently increased the coupling between the glacier and the bed. Surface speed was either out of phase with tilt or varied independently of tilt. Thus, increases in speed were apparently a consequence either of longitudinal coupling or of reduced coupling between the glacier and the bed; they were not a result of till deformation! Till strength varied directly with effective pressure, which is consistent with it being a Mohr – Coulomb, or frictional material. The devices measuring till strength are presumed to have been pulled through the till at a speed that varied in phase with the surface speed but till strength did not vary systematically with surface speed. This implies that the residual strength of the till is insensitive to strain rate. Thus, the appropriate constitutive equation for till rheology may be of the form:
where k is a constant. This is consistent with experimental data reported in the geotechnical literature.