Mechanical forcing of water pressure in a hydraulically isolated reach beneath Western Greenland's ablation zone

Toby W. Meierbachtol, Joel T. Harper, Neil F. Humphrey, Patrick J. Wright

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15 Scopus citations


A suite of surface and basal measurements during and after borehole drilling is used to perform in situ investigation of the local basal drainage system and pressure forcing in western Greenland. Drill and borehole water temperature were monitored during borehole drilling, which was performed with dyed hot water. After drilling, borehole water pressure and basal dye concentration were measured concurrently with positions in a GPS strain diamond at the surface. Water pressure exhibited diurnal changes in antiphase with velocity. Dye monitoring in the borehole revealed stagnant basal water for nearly 2 weeks. The interpretation of initial connection to an isolated basal cavity is corroborated by the thermal signature of borehole water during hot water drilling. Measurement-based estimates of cavity size are on the order of cubic meters, and analysis indicates that small changes in its volume could induce the observed pressure variations. It is found that longitudinal coupling effects are unable to force necessary volume changes at the site. Sliding-driven basal cavity opening and elastic uplift from load transfer are plausible mechanisms controlling pressure variations. Elastic uplift requires forcing from a hydraulically connected reach, which observations suggest must be relatively small and in close proximity to the isolated cavity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-70
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of Glaciology
Issue number72
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • glacier hydrology
  • subglacial processes


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