Slow surge of Trapridge Glacier, Yukon Territory, Canada

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Abstract

[1] Trapridge Glacier, a polythermal surge-type glacier located in the St. Elias Mountains, Yukon Territory, Canada, passed through a complete surge cycle between 1951 and 2005. Air photos (1951–1981) and ground-based optical surveys (1969–2005) are used to quantify the modifications in flow and geometry that occurred over this period. Yearly averaged flow records suggest that the active phase began ∼1980, and lasted until ∼2000. The average velocity in the central area of the glacier went from 16 m yr−1 in 1974 to 39 m yr−1 in 1980; it peaked at 42 m yr−1 in 1984, and remained above 25 m yr−1 until 2001. Over that interval, the flow decelerated by steps, in 4-year pulses. After a particularly vigorous acceleration in 1997–1999, the glacier gradually slowed to presurge velocities. In 2005, the flow was less than 9 m yr−1. Digital elevation models are generated by stereographic analysis of air photos for 1951, 1970, 1972, 1977, and 1981. These models are updated annually using ground-based survey data and a novel implementation of Bayesian kriging. Over the course of the surge, the front of active ice advanced 450 m and the glacier area increased by 10%, with an associated thinning of the ice. The previous surge of Trapridge Glacier, starting before 1939 and ending before 1951, led to a terminus advance of ∼1 km. Comparison of the two surges suggests that the 1930s surge started with a slow progression similar to what we observed in the 1980s and 1990s, and switched to a faster flow mode after 1941. This second phase was never attained in the recent surge, probably owing to a lack of mass.

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