Tracking glaciers with the Alaska seismic network

Icebergs that tumble into the ocean are the source of unusual "earthquakes" recorded at Alaskan glaciers.

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Glacier watchers on the Tasman Lake. Photo found on Bob McKerrow blogspot

More than 40 years ago it was known that calving glaciers in Alaska created unmistakable seismic signals that could be recorded tens and hundreds of kilometers away. Their long monochromatic signals invited studies that foreshadowed the more recent surge in glacier seismology. Beyond a handful of targeted studies, these signals have remained a seismic novelty. No systematic attempt has been made to catalog and track glacier seismicity across the years.

Recent advances in understanding glacier sources, combined with the climate significance of tidewater glaciers, have renewed calls for comprehensive tracking of glacier seismicity in coastal Alaska. The Alaska Earthquake Center has included glacier events in its production earthquake catalog for decades. Until recently, these were best thought of as bycatch—accidental finds in the process of tracking earthquakes. Processing improvements a decade ago, combined with network improvements in the past five years, have turned this into a rich data stream capturing hundreds of events per year across 600 km of the coastal mountain range. Though the source of these signals is generally found to be iceberg calving, there are vast differences in behavior between different glacier termini.

Here a video of one of the largest ice movement on earth in Greenland:

Some glaciers have strong peaks in activity during the spring, while others peak in the late summer or fall. These patterns are consistent over years pointing to fundamental differences in calving behavior. In another example, at Columbia glacier, activity began abruptly at the same time as a known change in the grounding conditions at the terminus. These observations illustrate that the current network is faithfully capturing the dynamic behavior of several glaciers in coastal Alaska. I consider, in addition, what might be possible going forward with dedicated detection schemes. See abstract at SSA (Search West).

Hopefully this will help to discover why do glacier shake!

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SOURCESSA 2014
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