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Structure and strength of basal ice and substrate of a dry-based glacier: evidence for substrate deformation at sub-freezing temperatures

Sean Fitzsimons1, Kevin McManus2, Reginald Lorrain3

1 Department of Geography, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
2 Department of Civil Engineering, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
3 Département des Sciences de la Terre et de l'Environnement, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium

 
Abstract

This paper presents new data and interpretations of the structure, strength and behaviour of basal ice and the substrate of Suess Glacier, south Victoria Land, Antarctica, which is a small alpine dry-based glacier that has a basal temperature of -17°C. A tunnel excavated in the glacier revealed a substrate composed of frozen sand and gravel and a basal zone that was 3.8 m thick. From bottom to top, the basal zone was composed of 1.8 m of stratified, complexly deformed layers of ice and debris overlain by a 0.9 m thick layer of frozen sediment and a 0.8 m thick layer of discoloured ice lying immediately beneath clean glacier ice. Direct shear tests performed in the field on 36 samples show that the average peak shear strength of substrate samples was 2.53 MPa, which is almost twice as strong as the average value for basal ice (1.28 MPa) and the glacier ice samples (1.39 MPa). The direct shear tests suggest that the glacier substrate is unlikely to deform at the current temperature. However, observations of the structure and composition of the basal zone suggest that the substrate contains localized weaknesses that may reduce the peak strength sufficiently to permit bed deformation and entrainment. Two observed forms of weakness are ice lenses and layers in the permafrost and lenses of unsaturated permafrost, which may be inherited from the active zone of a former land surface or produced as pore ice sublimes into cavities which have formed at the glacier bed. Interpretation of data from this study suggests that glacier beds well below the freezing point can be deformed and eroded under certain conditions.

 
Reference

Fitzsimons, S.J., McManus, K.J., Lorrain, R.D. 1999. Structure and strength of basal ice and substrate of a dry-based glacier: evidence for substrate deformation at sub-freezing temperatures. Annals of Glaciology 28, 236-240. [PDF 125kb]

 

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