Morphological dynamics of an englacial channel

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Despite an interest in the hydraulic functioning of supraglacial and englacial channels over the last four decades, the processes and forms of such ice-bounded streams have remained poorly documented. Recent glaciological research has demonstrated the potential significance of so-called "cut and closure" streams, where englacial or subglacial flowpaths are created from the long-term incision of supraglacial channels. These flowpaths are reported to exhibit step-pool morphology, comprising knickpoints and/or knickzones, albeit exaggerated in dimensions in comparison to their supraglacial channel counterparts. However, little is known of the development of such channels' morphology. Here, we examine the spatial organization of step-pools and the upstream migration of steps, many of which form knickzones, with repeated surveys over a 10 year period in an englacial conduit in cold-based Austre Brøggerbreen, Svalbard. The observations show upstream knickpoint recession to be the dominant process for channel evolution. This is paralleled by an increase in average step height and conduit gradient over time. Characteristic channel reach types and step-riser forms are consistently observed in each of the morphological surveys reported. We suggest that the formation of steps has a hydrodynamic origin, where step-pool geometry is more efficient for energy dissipation than meanders, and that the englacial channel system is one in rapid transition rather than in dynamic equilibrium. The evolution and recession of knickzones reported here result in the formation of a 37 m moulin, suggesting over time the englacial channel may evolve towards a stable end-point characterised by a singular vertical descent to the local hydraulic base level. In light of this, our observations highlight the need to further examine the adjustment processes in cut-and-closure channels to better understand their coupling to supraglacial meltwater sources and role and potential significance in cold-based glacier hydrology and ice dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2947-2964
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2016


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