Kinematics of the exceptionally-short surge cycles of Sít’ Kusá (Turner Glacier), Alaska, from 1983 to 2013

Andrew Nolan, William Kochtitzky, Ellyn Enderlin, Robert McNabb, Karl Kreutz

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Abstract

Glacier surges are periodic episodes of mass redistribution characterized by dramatic increases in ice flow velocity and, sometimes, terminus advance. We use optical satellite imagery to document five previously unexamined surge events of Sít’ Kusá (Turner Glacier) in the St. Elias Mountains of Alaska from 1983 to 2013. Surge events had an average recurrence interval of ~5 years, making it the shortest known regular recurrence interval in the world. Surge events appear to initiate in the winter, with speeds reaching up to ~25 m d−1. The surges propagate down-glacier over ~2 years, resulting in maximum thinning of ~100 m in the reservoir zone and comparable thickening at the terminus. Collectively, the rapid recurrence interval, winter initiation and down-glacier propagation suggest Sít’ Kusá's surges are driven by periodic changes in subglacial hydrology and glacier sliding. Elevation change observations from the northern tributary show a kinematic disconnect above and below an icefall located 23 km from the terminus. We suggest the kinematic disconnect inhibits drawdown from the accumulation zone above the icefall, which leads to a steady flux of ice into the reservoir zone, and contributes to the glacier's exceptionally short recurrence interval.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Early online date31 Mar 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Mar 2021

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