Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2020-274
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2020-274

  02 Dec 2020

02 Dec 2020

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

InSAR-based characterization of rock glacier movement in the Uinta Mountains, Utah, USA

George Brencher1, Alexander L. Handwerger2,3, and Jeffrey S. Munroe1 George Brencher et al.
  • 1Geology Department, Middlebury College, Middlebury, 05753, USA
  • 2Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, 90095, USA
  • 3Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, 91109, USA

Abstract. Rock glaciers are a prominent component of many alpine landscapes and constitute a significant water resource in some arid mountain environments. Here, we employ satellite-based interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) to identify and monitor active rock glaciers in the Uinta Mountains (Utah, USA), an area of ~10,000 km2. We used mean velocity maps to generate an inventory for the Uinta Mountains containing 255 active rock glaciers. Active rock glaciers are 10.8 ha in area on average, and located at a mean elevation of 3290 m, where mean annual air temperature is 0.12 °C. The mean line-of-sight (LOS) velocity for the inventory is 2.52 cm/yr, but individual rock glaciers have LOS velocities ranging from 0.88 to 5.26 cm/yr. To search for relationships with climatic drivers, we investigate the time-dependent motion of three rock glaciers over the summers of 2016–2019. Time series analysis suggests that rock glacier motion has a significant seasonal component, with motion that is more than 5 times faster during the late summer compared to rest of the year. Rock glacier velocities also appear to be correlated with the snow-water equivalent of the previous winter's snowpack. These results demonstrate the ability to use satellite InSAR to monitor rock glaciers over large areas and provide insight into the environmental factors that control their kinematics.

George Brencher et al.

 
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George Brencher et al.

George Brencher et al.

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Short summary
We use satellite InSAR to inventory and monitor rock glaciers, frozen bodies of ice and rock debris that are an important water resource in the Uinta Mountains, Utah, USA. Our inventory contains 255 active rock glaciers, which occur within a narrow elevation band and deform at 2.52 cm/yr on average. Uinta rock glacier movement changes seasonally and appears to be driven by spring snowmelt. The role of rock glaciers as a perennial water resource is threatened by ice loss due to climate change.