Thermal stresses near the surface of a glacier

Stresses occur in the uppermost 10 m of a glacier as a result of temperature fluctuations at the surface. A model is set up of a typical year's surface temperature variation, and the progress of temperature waves through the glacier is calculated using Fourier theory of heat conduction. Short-period fluctuations are rapidly attenuated, and at 10 m depth the annual cycle is reduced to 5% of its surface amplitude. As the temperature of the ice varies it undergoes small volume changes; stresses are calculated on the assumption that any tendency of the ice to expand or contract laterally results in the creation of just enough stress to cause the ice to remain unstrained. It is found that in the top 2 or 3 m stresses of thermal origin are generally in excess of those due to gross deformation or overburden pressure. For the case of high-density ice Glen's flow law is used, and conditions are found to be favourable for the formation of surface rumples of wavelength about 10 m. For the case of firm or snow a Newtonian flow law is assumed, and it is found that under cold conditions fracture under tension can occur. Cracks of thermal origin may be responsible for the initial formation of crevasses, and they also provide an explanation for background noise encountered when seismic shooting at low temperatures. Calculations are made of the strain-rate field surrounding a crack and it is found that thermal effects can lead to appreciable Strain-rate anomalies for strain-rate measurements near cracks. The magnitude of the effect is easily sufficient to account for anomalous fluctuating strain-rates found by workers using wire strainmeters on the Barnes Ice Cap.


Publication status:
Authors: Sanderson, T.J.O.

1 January, 1978
Journal of Glaciology / 20
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