Two modes of accelerated glacier sliding related to water

Joel T. Harper, Neil F. Humphrey, W. Tad Pfeffer, Brian Lazar

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62 Scopus citations


We present the first glacier-wide detailed measurement of basal effective pressure and related observations including bed separation to elucidate the role of water in sliding. The hard bedded glacier instrumented in our study exhibited two phases of accelerated sliding motion apparently driven by separate mechanisms. The first acceleration phase (up to 5 fold increase in speed) was closely tied to an increase in bed separation. The faster second phase (up to 9 fold increase in speed) was related to an unusually high level of connectivity of subglacial waters. We infer the first mode was related to cavity opening and the second mode was related to reduced ice contact with the bed. Glacier sliding over a hard bed is typically represented by sliding laws that include the effective basal pressure, but neither sliding phase was accompanied by a simultaneous decrease in local or regional effective pressure.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL12503
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 28 2007


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