Dendritic subglacial drainage systems in cold glaciers formed by cut-and-closure processes

Kathrin Naegeli, Harold Lovell, Michael Zemp, Douglas I. Benn

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    Abstract

    The routing and storage of meltwater and the configuration of drainage systems in glaciers exert a profound influence on glacier behaviour. However, little is known about the hydrological systems of cold glaciers, which form a significant proportion of the total glacier population in the climate sensitive region of the High Arctic. Using glacio-speleological techniques, we obtained direct access to explore and survey three conduit systems and one moulin within the tongue area of Tellbreen, a small cold-based valley glacier in central Spitsbergen. More than 600 m of conduits were surveyed and mapped in plan, profile and cross-section view to analyse the configuration of the drainage system. The investigations revealed that cold-based glaciers can exhibit a dendritic drainage network with supra-, en- and subglacial components formed most likely by cut-and-closure processes as well as surface-to-bed drainage via moulins. Furthermore, we observed that water is stored within the glacier and released gradually via subglacial conduits during the winter months, forming a large and active icing in the proglacial area. The presence of supra-, en- and subglacial components, the surface-to-bed moulin and the dendritic subglacial drainage network suggest that existing models and understanding of the hydrology of cold glaciers needs to be re-evaluated, mostly concerning the different possible pathways and processes that form the hydrological system.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)591-608
    JournalGeografiska Annaler. Part A. Physical Geography
    Volume96
    Issue number4
    Early online date2 Sep 2014
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014

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