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The pace and volume of mass flow processes contributing ice and sediment to icy debris fans (IDFs) were documented at sites in Alaska and New Zealand by integrating field observations, drone and time-lapse imagery, ground penetrating radar, and terrestrial laser scanning. Largely unstudied, IDFs are supraglacial landforms at the mouths of bedrock catchments between valley glaciers and icecaps. Time-lapse imagery recorded 300–2300 events reaching 15 fans during intervals from nine months to two years. Field observations noted hundreds of deposits trapped within catchments weekly that were later remobilized onto fans. Deposits were mapped on images taken three to four times per day. Most events were ice avalanches (58%–100%). Slush avalanches and/or flows were common in spring and fall (0%–65%). Icy debris flows were <5% of the events, observed only at sites with geomorphically complex catchments. Rockfalls were common within catchments; few directly reached a fan. Site selection provided a spectrum of catchment relationships between icecaps and fans. The largest most active fans occur below hanging glaciers or short chutes between the icecap and glacier and were dominated by ice avalanches, slush avalanches, and slush flows. Larger, complex catchments allowed temporary storage of ice and sediment that were later remobilized into ice and slush avalanches and debris flows. Unlike alluvial settings where larger fans are associated with larger catchments, there are variable relationships between IDF area and catchment area.
Exceptionally active and dynamic compared to alluvial fans, the studied IDFs exhibited annual resurfacing rates of 300%–>4000%. Annual contributions by mass flows ranged from 133,200 to 5,200,000 m3, representing 3%–56% of fan volume. Although ablation occurred, mainly during summers, significant ice transfer occurred through fan subsurface areas to adjacent valley glaciers. Icy debris fans annually contributed <1%–~24% of the mass of adjacent valley glaciers. Small glaciers (e.g., McCarthy Glacier, Alaska) showed minor thinning (<1 m/yr) compared to larger glaciers (e.g., La Perouse, Douglas, and Mueller Glaciers, New Zealand) that lost >5–10 m/yr over the hundreds of meters of valley glacier adjacent to the IDFs studied. Some IDFs lengthened in response to thinning of valley glaciers. Icy debris fans supplied significant ice and sediment to valley glaciers, slowing the rate of deglaciation. Results of this study have implications toward managing hazards and predicting glacial mass balance in alpine regions. For example, having quantitative information about the role of ice contribution from IDFs to valley glaciers may result in forecasting a lower rate of deglaciation than traditionally recognized for some glaciers decoupled from icecaps.







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Geology & Environmental Geosciences

Second Department

Geology & Environmental Geosciences


The provided website for the published manuscript contains link to multiple supplemental datasets.