Articles | Volume 5, issue 1
The Cryosphere, 5, 299–313, 2011
The Cryosphere, 5, 299–313, 2011

Research article 31 Mar 2011

Research article | 31 Mar 2011

Present dynamics and future prognosis of a slowly surging glacier

G. E. Flowers1, N. Roux1,2, S. Pimentel1,*, and C. G. Schoof3 G. E. Flowers et al.
  • 1Department of Earth Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada
  • 2École Normale Supérieure, Paris, France
  • 3Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • *now at: Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK

Abstract. Glacier surges are a well-known example of an internal dynamic oscillation whose occurrence is not a direct response to the external climate forcing, but whose character (i.e. period, amplitude, mechanism) may depend on the glacier's environmental or climate setting. We examine the dynamics of a small (∼5 km2) valley glacier in Yukon, Canada, where two previous surges have been photographically documented and an unusually slow surge is currently underway. To characterize the dynamics of the present surge, and to speculate on the future of this glacier, we employ a higher-order flowband model of ice dynamics with a regularized Coulomb-friction sliding law in both diagnostic and prognostic simulations. Diagnostic (force balance) calculations capture the measured ice-surface velocity profile only when non-zero basal water pressures are prescribed over the central region of the glacier, coincident with where evidence of the surge has been identified. This leads to sliding accounting for 50–100% of the total surface motion in this region. Prognostic simulations, where the glacier geometry evolves in response to a prescribed surface mass balance, reveal a significant role played by a bedrock ridge beneath the current equilibrium line of the glacier. Ice thickening occurs above the ridge in our simulations, until the net mass balance reaches sufficiently negative values. We suggest that the bedrock ridge may contribute to the propensity for surges in this glacier by promoting the development of the reservoir area during quiescence, and may permit surges to occur under more negative balance conditions than would otherwise be possible. Collectively, these results corroborate our interpretation of the current glacier flow regime as indicative of a slow surge that has been ongoing for some time, and support a relationship between surge incidence or character and the net mass balance. Our results also highlight the importance of glacier bed topography in controlling ice dynamics, as observed in many other glacier systems.