Origin and significance of 'dispersed fades' basal ice: Svinafellsjokull, Iceland

Simon J. Cook, Darrel A. Swift, David J. Graham, Nicholas G. Midgley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dispersed facies basal ice - massive (i.e. structureless) ice with dispersed debris aggregates - is present at the margins of many glaciers and, as a product of internal glacial processes, has the potential to provide important information about the mechanisms of glacier flow and the nature of the subglacial environment. The origin of dispersed facies is poorly understood, with several hypotheses having been advanced for its formation, and there is disagreement as to whether it is largely a sedimentary or a tectonic feature. We test these established hypotheses at the temperate glacier Svinafellsjokull, Iceland, and find that none fully account for dispersed facies characteristics at this location. Instead, dispersed facies physical, sedimentological and stable-isotope (delta(18)O, delta D) characteristics favour a predominantly tectonic origin that we suggest comprises the regelation and strain-induced metamorphism of debris-rich basal ice that has been entrained into an englacial position by tectonic processes operating at the base of an icefall. Further thickening of the resultant dispersed facies may also occur tectonically as a result of ice flow against the reverse bed slope of a terminal overdeepening. Lack of efficient subglacial drainage in the region of the overdeepening may limit basal melting and thus favour basal ice preservation, including the preservation of dispersed facies. Despite the relatively low sediment content of dispersed facies (similar to 1.6% by volume), its thickness (up to 25 m) and ubiquity at Svinafellsjokull results in a significant contribution to annual sediment discharge (1635-3270 m(3) a(-1)) that is similar to 6.5 times that contributed by debris-rich stratified facies basal ice
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)710-720
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2011


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