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Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface

Comparison of thermal structure and evolution between neighboring subarctic glaciers

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Abstract

[1] The distribution of cold and temperate ice within glaciers and ice sheets affects processes relevant to englacial and basal hydrology, sliding, and material rheology. Thermal regimes, in turn, are shaped by glacier and ice sheet dynamics, as well as environmental setting. We investigate the thermal structures of two small (<7 km2) neighboring glaciers in the St. Elias Mountains of southwestern Yukon, Canada, using ice-penetrating radar and borehole temperature measurements. Our data reveal polythermal regimes in both glaciers that are strongly influenced by accumulation zone meltwater entrapment, suggesting a climatic control on thermal structure. Differences in hypsometry and glacier dynamics nevertheless result in observed variations in the distribution of temperate ice between the two sites. Experiments with a thermomechanically coupled flow band model corroborate the strong control of meltwater entrapment on thermal structure and suggest a generally minimal role for strain heating. An exception to this occurs where localized basal sliding produces lateral shearing and thus enhanced heat generation. Time-dependent model simulations suggest that the future thermal evolution of the two glaciers may differ, and therefore simple parameterizations of thermal response based on regional climate may not capture realistic variability between individual glaciers. Despite these differences, both glaciers are ultimately expected to become fully cold prior to disappearing under negative mass balance conditions.

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