Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Earth Sciences


Karl Kreutz

Second Committee Member

Peter Koons

Third Committee Member

Steven Arcone


Mountain glaciers and ice caps (GICs) currently contribute ~20% to annual sea level rise. Most are temperate, therefore having the potential for rapid retreat from rising atmospheric temperatures. This climate sensitivity makes GIC stability and their impact on sea level rise a scientific problem with societal implications. To accurately predict impacts from GIC changes, knowledge of glacier components (e.g., basin geometry, mass balance, and dynamics) is needed. The goal of my dissertation research is to determine information about glacier geometry, snow-firn, and englacial stratigraphy using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to enhance our understanding of valley glacier mass balance, dynamics, and stability. I first examine glacier basin geometry and ice volume of two temperate glaciers (Jarvis Glacier, Alaska and Nisqually Glacier, Washington) and demonstrate that significant errors (>30-50%) can arise when using empirically-based volume estimates without geophysical constraints. I next determine spatial variability of accumulation across the temperate Juneau Icefield in Alaska using GPR to interpolate between snowpits. To accomplish this, the dependence of radar velocity on snow density (~0.3-0.7 g cm-3) and water content (0-9% by volume) needs to be addressed. Results show that on average, 2.1±0.5 m (water equivalent) of winter snow accumulates across the icefield with accumulation patterns depending on elevation, aspect, and proximity to moisture source. The third component of my dissertation combines locally measured accumulation rates, ice flow velocities, and englacial structures imaged with GPR to calculate that a negative mass balance (-0.25 cm a-1) has existed in valley glaciers of the Pensacola Mountains, West Antarctica over the past 1200 years. Finally, I use a 3-dimensional finite element non-Newtonian model to characterize the stress fields and current dynamics of a small ice divide. GPR-derived basin geometry is used for model boundary conditions and field-measured velocities, derived strain rates, and GPR-imaged englacial features are used to validate the model. Combined results show that GPR is a powerful tool for developing knowledge of glacier geometry, snow-firn structure, and englacial stratigraphy to enhance our understanding of valley glacier history, dynamics, and stability. Ultimately, this enhanced understanding is useful for refining estimates of future GIC sea level rise contributions.

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