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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2019-178
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-2019-178
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 20 Sep 2019

Submitted as: research article | 20 Sep 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal The Cryosphere (TC).

Debris cover and the thinning of Kennicott Glacier, Alaska, Part C: feedbacks between melt, ice dynamics, and surface processes

Leif S. Anderson1,2, William H. Armstrong1,3, Robert S. Anderson1, and Pascal Buri4 Leif S. Anderson et al.
  • 1Department of Geological Sciences and Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA
  • 2GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam, Germany
  • 3Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, USA
  • 4Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, USA

Abstract. The mass balance of many valley glaciers is enhanced by the presence of melt hotspots within otherwise continuous debris cover. We assess the effect of debris, melt hotspots, and ice dynamics on the thinning of Kennicott Glacier in three companion papers. In Part A we report in situ measurements from the debris-covered tongue. In Part B, we develop a method to delineate ice cliffs using high-resolution imagery and produce distributed mass balance estimates. Here in Part C we describe feedbacks controlling rapid thinning under thick debris.

Despite the extreme abundance of ice cliffs on Kennicott Glacier, average melt rates are strongly suppressed downglacier due to thick debris. The estimated melt pattern therefore appears to reflect Østrem’s curve (the debris thickness-melt relationship).

As Kennicott Glacier has thinned over the last century Østrem’s curve has manifested itself in two process domains on the glacier surface. The portion of the glacier affected by the upper-limb of Østrem’s curve corresponds to high melt, melt gradients, and ice dynamics, as well as high ice cliff and stream occurrence. The portion of the glacier affected by the lower-limb of Østrem’s curve corresponds to low melt, melt gradients, and ice dynamics, as well as high ice cliff and stream occurrence.

The upglacier end of the zone of maximum thinning on Kennicott Glacier occurs at the boundary between these process domains and the bend in Østrem’s curve. The expansion of debris upglacier appears to be linked to changes in the surface velocity pattern through time. In response to climate warming, debris itself may therefore control where rapid thinning occurs on debris-covered glaciers. Ice cliffs are most abundant at the upglacier end of the zone of maximum thinning.

Leif S. Anderson et al.
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Short summary
Thick rock cover (or debris) disturbs the melt of many Alaskan glaciers. Yet the effect of debris on glacier thinning in Alaska has been overlooked. In three companion papers we assess the role of debris and ice flow on the thinning of Kennicott Glacier. In Part C we describe feedbacks contributing to rapid thinning under thick debris. Changes in debris thickness downglacier on Kennicott Glacier are manifested in the pattern of glacier thinning, ice dynamics, melt, and glacier surface features.
Thick rock cover (or debris) disturbs the melt of many Alaskan glaciers. Yet the effect of...
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