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Interactions between glaciers and permafrost: an introduction

Charles Harris
Charles Harris
School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
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Julian B. Murton
Julian B. Murton
Department of Geography, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
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January 01, 2005


A consideration of the interactions between glaciers and permafrost is essential to many environmental studies of cold regions. This paper reviews how concepts, field data and experimental studies from glaciology and geocryology can provide a basis for improved understanding of some of the key glacier-permafrost interactions at scales ranging from continental ice sheets to small proglacial streams. Glacitectonic processes are strongly influenced by water pressures beneath subglacial and proglacial permafrost, and by the amount of unfrozen water within the permafrost. Burial of glacier ice and growth of intra-sedimental ice also occur within sub- and proglacial permafrost, and together they produce a complex assemblage of ground ice in glaciated frozen lowlands. In mountain regions, rock glaciers are associated with the presence of ground ice, and represent a landform that straddles the semantic fence separating glacial features from permafrost features. In proglacial and ice-marginal environments, geomorphological activity reflects the combined effects of glacially- and periglacially-conditioned processes operating synchronously in adjacent areas, or in succession; such activity includes the transport of sediment in glacierized catchments and the calving of glacial ice in ice-marginal lakes. Interaction between permafrost and glacial phenomena depends largely on their proximity: where permafrost occurs close to glaciers, the thermal regime of the active layer is influenced in part by the surface covering of adjacent glacial ice through its effect on albedo and ground heat flux. Glacier-permafrost interactions are particularly important in recently deglaciated terrain, where permafrost may be aggrading. This ‘paraglacial’ zone often shows rapid geomorphological change. Thus, glacier-permafrost interactions are complex and occur over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales.

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Geological Society, London, Special Publications

Cryospheric Systems: Glaciers and Permafrost

C. Harris
C. Harris
Cardiff University, UK
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J. B. Murton
J. B. Murton
University of Sussex, UK
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Geological Society of London
ISBN electronic:
Publication date:
January 01, 2005




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