The results of systematic movement studies carried out by means of an automatic camera on the Unteraargletscher since 1969 (Flotron, 1973) are discussed together with more recent findings from theodolite measurements made at shorter intervals and over a longer section of the glacier.
In addition to the typical spring/early-summer maximum of velocity known from other glaciers, an upward movement of up to 0.6 m has been recorded at the beginning of the melt season. It was followed, after various fluctuations of the vertical velocity, by a similar but slower downward movement which continued at an almost constant rate for about three months. The uplift was not confined to the section covered by the camera but occurred nearly simultaneously in profiles located 1 km below and 2 km above. The times of maximum upward velocity (increases of up to 140 mm/d) coincided approximately with periods of large horizontal velocity and occurred after increases of melt-rate.
The following explanations for the variations of vertical velocity are considered: (1) Changes of longitudinal strain-rate. (2) Changes of the sliding velocity in a channel of variable width and with a bed slope deviating from horizontal. (3) Changes of volume due to opening or closing of crevasses. (4) Swelling or contraction of veins at the grain edges. (5) Growth (and closure) of cavities in the interior of the glacier. (6) Changes of large-scale water storage at the bed.
Although all of the mechanisms (1)–(5) have some effect on the vertical ice movement, they cannot account for the observed variations of vertical velocity. We therefore conclude that large-scale water storage at the bed is the main cause of the uplift. Apparently the storage system is efficiently connected with the main subglacial drainage channels only during times of very high water pressure in the channels.
The findings are of some interest to the concepts of glacier sliding: As mentioned above the maxima of horizontal velocity—and thus of the sliding velocity—have not been measured at the time when the storage had attained a maximum, but at the time of maximum vertical velocity, which we assume to be the time of most rapid growth of cavities at the bed. This behaviour of the sliding velocity agrees with that predicted by a simple finite-element model of the basal ice on a wavy bed with water-filled cavities. In particular, the model shows that the sliding velocity is larger during the process of cavity growth than at the final stage when the cavities have grown to the size which is stable for the applied water pressure.