Accelerated subglacial erosion in response to stick-slip motion

L. K. Zoet, R. B. Alley, S. Anandakrishnan, and K. Christianson

Geology (1 February 2013)

DOI: 10.1130/G33624.1

Subglacial stick-slip motion speeds erosion by hydrofracturing and in other ways, as determined from analysis of the growing body of field data. Microearthquake monitoring commonly detects subglacial earthquakes, likely mostly from stick-slip motion of debris-laden ice over bedrock. Source parameters show that many quakes cause enough motion to greatly lower water pressure in cavities on the lee sides of bedrock steps. We calculate that the resulting expansion of higher-pressure water in nearby cracks promotes hydrofracturing, with even relatively small cracks growing unstably under thick glaciers and all cracks growing faster than for aseismic behavior. This mechanism also helps generate the step-like topography favoring block plucking. This stick-slip glacier-erosion hypothesis suggests that the erosion rate will increase with ice thickness as well as basal shear stress, ice-flow velocity, and water supply.

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