09 Jan 2023
09 Jan 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

The evolution of isolated cavities and hydraulic connection at the glacier bed. Part 1: steady states and friction laws

Christian Schoof Christian Schoof
  • Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Abstract. Models of subglacial drainage and of cavity formation generally assume that the glacier bed is pervasively hydraulically connected. A growing body of field observations indicates that this assumption is frequently violated in practice. In this paper, I use an extension of existing models of steady state cavitation to study the formation of hydraulically isolated, uncavitated low-pressure regions of the bed, which would become flooded if they had access to the subglacial drainage system. I also study their natural counterpart, hydraulically isolated cavities that would drain if they had access to the subglacial drainage system. I show that connections to the drainage system are made at two different sets of critical effective pressure, a lower one at which uncavitated low-pressure regions connect to the drainage system, and a higher one at which isolated cavities do the same. I also show that the extent of cavitation, determined by the history of connections made at the bed, has a dominant effect on basal drag while remaining outside the realm of previously employed basal friction laws: Changes in basal effective pressure alone may have a minor effect on basal drag until a connection between a cavity and an uncavitated low-pressure region of the bed is made, at which point a drastic and irreversible drop in drag occurs. These results point to the need to expand basal friction and drainage models to include a description of basal connectivity.

Christian Schoof

Status: open (until 06 Mar 2023)

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Christian Schoof

Christian Schoof


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Short summary
Computational models that seek to predict the future behaviour of ice sheets and glaciers typically rely on being able to compute the rate at which a glacier slides over its bed. In this paper, I show that the degree to which the glacier bed is "hydraulically connected" (how easily water can flow along the glacier bed) plays a central role in determining how fast ice can slide.