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The spatial structure and temporal development of supraglacial drainage systems, and their influence on the flow dynamics of High Arctic ice caps Open Access


Other title
Devon Ice Cap
Supraglacial Lakes
Supraglacial Hydrology
Ice Dynamics
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Wyatt, Faye R
Supervisor and department
Sharp, Martin (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Sarah Das (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Uldis Silins (Renewable Resources)
Arturo Sanchez (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
Jeff Kavanaugh (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA) contains 1/3 of global glaciers and ice caps by area. Recent increases in mean summer air temperature have resulted in increased mass loss from these glaciers, which have become the largest regional contributor to eustatic sea level rise after the continental ice sheets. Increases in glacier velocity triggered by `hydrological forcing' can increase the transfer of ice from high to low elevations, accelerating mass loss. Hydrological forcing requires surface meltwater to reach the glacier bed, where it reduces basal friction and increases basal sliding and glacier velocities. However the role of supraglacial meltwater drainage processes in creating hydrological forcing is poorly understood. This study characterizes the supraglacial drainage system of a large ice cap in the CAA, and explores how it controls the delivery of water to the ice cap bed, and how this is reflected in the flow of the ice cap. Annual mean velocities of outlet glaciers draining the Devon Ice Cap (DIC) vary significantly from year to year. The highest variability is observed where surface meltwater penetrates to the glacier bed and in regions where basal sliding contributes to glacier velocities. This suggests that hydrological forcing is occurring in some regions of the DIC. This study finds that there are differences in the structure and distribution of supraglacial drainage systems where basal sliding occurs, which affects the volume, distribution and rate of meltwater delivery to glacier bed. A feedback may exist between supraglacial drainage and ice dynamics, as the structure of the drainage system delivers larger and more variable amounts of surface meltwater to a wider area of the glacier bed where basal sliding occurs, which may increase the sensitivity of these regions to climate warming. Exploring how the structure and distribution of surface drainage features and the delivery of surface meltwater to the bed vary across an ice cap, and how this may change as climate warms, enhances our understanding of the dynamic behaviour of glaciers and ice caps in the CAA.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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