Large Response to Precipitation and Tidal Forcing at Columbia Glacier Imaged with Terrestrial Radar Interferometry

Ryan Cassotto, Mark Fahnestock, Shad O’Neel, Louis Sass, Robert McNabb, W. T. Pfeffer

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Columbia Glacier, one of Alaska's largest tidewater glaciers (TWG), stretches from sea level in Prince William Sound to the high peaks of Alaska's Chugach Mountains. One of the last TWG in the area to retreat from its Little Ice Age (LIA) moraine, Columbia has lost about half its ice volume as its terminus receded 22 km behind the LIA maximum position. At this time the glacier has split into two branches, with termini thought to be located near the heads of the submarine parts of the fjord, and may be nearing the end of its retreat phase. Seasonal variations in speed near the termini on both branches are large (~90%), with late summer speeds as low as a few meters per day. We deployed a terrestrial radar interferometer in October 2014 to observe short-term variations in speed during the slowest part of the seasonal cycle. Initial observations showed very slow speeds, with both termini exhibiting strong tidal modulation; however, significant rainfall from Tropical Storm Phanfone produced pronounced accelerations. We measured strong responses along both branches, with the largest increase (300%) occurring a few kilometers behind the calving fronts and lasted for several days. The large responses of the glacier's termini to this precipitation event, to tidal variations, and also the large seasonal variations in speed, suggest that Columbia's termini are not strongly grounded, are subject to large variations in sliding over short time periods, and may not yet have reached a more stable configuration in their retreats. The stability of Columbia's termini, based on our observations and bed models that suggest that a deep bed continues upfjord of the calving fronts for several kilometers, imply that Columbia's >30 year retreat may still be ongoing.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2015
EventAGU Fall Meeting 2015 -
Duration: 14 Dec 201518 Dec 2015


ConferenceAGU Fall Meeting 2015


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