Glacier velocity variability due to rain-induced sliding and cavity formation

H. J. Horgan, B. Anderson, R. B. Alley, C. J. Chamberlain, R. Dykes, L. M. Kehrl, and J. Townend

Earth and Planetary Science Letters (15 December 2015)

DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2015.10.016

Abstract The largest accelerations of glaciers and ice sheets are caused by changes in basal slip. Here we examine glacier speed and rain-induced accelerations using a near-continuous 26-month-long GNSS time series from a large maritime glacier (Tasman Glacier, New Zealand). During periods of high rain-rate we observe short-term increases in 24-hour speeds to up to 15-times background speed. Speeds calculated over 3-hour intervals increase to up to 36-times background speed. Acceleration events correspond with times when bed separation also increases rapidly indicating that the acceleration is associated with the growth of water-filled cavities at the bed. Glacier speeds then decrease prior to the reduction in bed separation, indicating cavity growth, not cavity extent, controls the acceleration. The short-term accelerations are superimposed on longer-term periods of enhanced velocity that persist for days to weeks and decay at similar rates to bed separation estimates and proglacial lake levels. A power-law relationship between observed rain-rate and speed exists at the glacier front and exhibits no apparent upper bound. Overall, we estimate that rain-induced accelerations account for 11–14

keywords: glaciology; subglacial hydrology; Antarctica; geophysics

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