Mechanisms of englacial conduit formation and their implications for subglacial recharge

J. D. Gulley, Doug I Benn, E. Screaton, Julia Wallis-Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

ideas about the character and evolution of englacial drainage systems have been deeply influenced by the theoretical model developed by Shreve [1972. Movement of water in glaciers. journal of Glaciology 11(62), 205-214]. The Shreve model is based on three main assumptions: (1) englacial drainage is in steady state; (2) englacial water will flow along the steepest hydraulic gradient within the glacier; and (3) pressure head equals the pressure of the surrounding ice minus a small component due to melting of the walls. The Shreve model has been widely adopted as a fundamental component of englacial drainage theory. There is no evidence, however, that the model provides a realistic picture of actual glacial drainage systems.

To evaluate Shreve's theory, we used speleological techniques to directly survey englacial conduits. We mapped a total of 8.25 km of passage in 27 distinct englacial conduits in temperate, polythermal, cold-based and debris-covered glaciers between 2005 and 2008. New information reported here is supplemented by published data on 40 other englacial conduits located worldwide and surveyed to ice depths of 176 m using speleological techniques. In all cases, englacial drainage systems consisted of a single unbranching conduit. Englacial conduit morphologies were found to be intimately linked to the orientation of a glacier's principal stresses or the presence of pre-existing lines of high hydraulic conductivity. If a sufficient supply of water is available, hydrofracturing forms vertical conduits in zones of longitudinal extension and subhorizontal conduits where longitudinal stresses are compressive. On unfractured glacier surfaces, relatively shallow subhorizontal conduits with migrating nickpoints form by cut-and-closure provided channel incision is significantly faster than surface lowering. Conduits can also form along permeable debris-filled crevasse traces that connect supraglacial lake basins of different potential. Our results suggest that Shreve-type englacial drainage systems do not exist and implies that englacial conduits can only penetrate through thick ice to recharge the bed where supraglacial water bodies either intersect, or are advected through, zones of acceleration. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1984-1999
Number of pages16
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Volume28
Issue number19-20
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2009

Keywords

  • GREENLAND ICE-SHEET
  • TERM VELOCITY VARIATIONS
  • FREEZE-ON MECHANISM
  • RICH BASAL ICE
  • POLYTHERMAL GLACIERS
  • TEMPERATE GLACIERS
  • POLYCRYSTALLINE ICE
  • GROUNDWATER-FLOW
  • WEST ANTARCTICA
  • LIMESTONE CAVES

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