Spatial variability in the flow of a valley glacier: Deformation of a large array of boreholes

Joel T. Harper, Neil F. Humphrey, W. Tad Pfeffer, Snehalata V. Huzurbazar, David B. Bahr, Brian C. Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Measurements of the deformation of a dense array of boreholes in Worthington Glacier, Alaska, show that the glacier moves with generally bed-parallel motion. Strain in the 200 m deep valley glacier is constant near the surface but follows a nonlinear vertical profile below a depth of about 120 m. By a depth of 180 m, the octahedral strain rate reaches 0.35 yr-1. The three-dimensional velocity field shows spatial complexity with significant deviations from plane strain, despite relatively simple valley geometry in the vicinity of the 6×106 m3 study volume. No evidence was found for time-varying deformation or movement along localized shear planes. Observations were made by repeatedly measuring the long-axis geometry of 31 closely spaced boreholes over a 70 day period, and three additional holes after 1 full year of deformation. The holes were spaced 15 to 30 m apart. Installation and measurement of such a large number of boreholes required the development of a semiautomated hot water drilling system that creates straight and vertical boreholes with uniform walls. The equipment and procedures enables borehole profiles to be measured without the use of hole casing. Inclinometry measurements collected in the holes were processed, analyzed for error, and visualized as a fully three-dimensional data set. The new methods offer unique insight into small-scale spatial and temporal variations in the pattern of flow in a valley glacier.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2000JB900440
Pages (from-to)8547-8562
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue numberB5
StatePublished - May 10 2001


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