Former dynamic behaviour of a cold-based valley glacier on Svalbard revealed by basal ice and structural glaciology investigations

Harold Lovell, Edward J. Fleming, Douglas I. Benn, Bryn Hubbard, Sven Lukas, Kathrin Naegeli

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Large numbers of small valley glaciers on Svalbard were thicker and more extensive during the Little Ice Age (LIA), demonstrated by prominent ice-cored moraines up to several kilometres beyond present-day margins. The majority of these glaciers have since experienced a long period of strongly negative mass balance during the 20th century and are now largely frozen to their beds, indicating they are likely to have undergone a thermal transition from a polythermal to a cold-based regime. We present evidence for such a switch by reconstructing the former flow dynamics and thermal regime of Tellbreen, a small cold-based valley glacier in central Spitsbergen, based on its basal sequence and glaciological structures. Within the basal sequence, the underlying matrix-supported diamict is interpreted as saturated subglacial traction till which has frozen at the bed, indicating that the thermal switch has resulted in a cessation of subglacial sediment deformation due to freezing of the former deforming layer. This is overlain by debris-poor dispersed facies ice, interpreted to have formed through strain-induced metamorphism of englacial ice. The sequential development of structures includes arcuate fracture traces, interpreted as shear planes formed in a compressive/transpressive stress regime; and fracture traces, interpreted as healed extensional crevasses. The formation of these sediment/ice facies and structures is indicative of dynamic, warm-based flow, most likely during the LIA when the glacier was significantly thicker.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-328
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Issue number226
Publication statusPublished - 01 May 2015


  • Arctic glaciology
  • basal ice
  • ice dynamics
  • structural glaciology
  • subglacial sediments
  • Basal ice
  • Structural glaciology
  • Subglacial sediments
  • Ice dynamics


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