Numerical Simulation of Supraglacial Debris Mobility: Implications for Ablation and Landform Genesis

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Natural Resource Ecology and Management
Supraglacial debris does not remain fixed atop ablating ice, but can move across the ice surface as supraglacial topography evolves. This active debris movement (distinct from passive movement due to underlying ice motion) affects landform genesis as well as the rate and spatial distribution of ablation. While observations of debris transport across evolving supraglacial topography are abundant, models of these coupled processes over timescales of decades and longer are few. Here I adapt a numerical model of coupled ablation and downslope debris transport to simulate the evolution of an idealized debris-covered glacier on the timescale of complete de-icing. The model includes ablation that depends on supraglacial debris thickness and a hillslope-scale debris transport function that scales non-linearly with slope angle. Ice thickness and debris distribution evolve with model time, allowing complete simulation of de-icing and landform construction in an idealized glacier test-section. The model produces supraglacial relief that leads to topographic inversions consistent with conceptual models of hummocky landform genesis. Model results indicate that the relief of the glacier surface and postglacial hummocks depend on the relationship between characteristic timescales for ablation and debris transport, which is defined as an index of debris mobility. When debris mobility is high, topographic inversions are rapid and supraglacial and postglacial relief are subdued. When debris mobility is low, more pronounced supraglacial relief is produced, but postglacial relief remains subdued. An intermediate mobility appears to optimize both postglacial relief and the rate of de-icingcompared with both highly-mobile and immobile debris. This enhancement of de-icing due to debris mobility could contribute to the observed anomalous rates of ablation in some debris-covered glaciers.
This article is published as Moore PL (2021) Numerical Simulation of Supraglacial Debris Mobility: Implications for Ablation and Landform Genesis. Front. Earth Sci. 9:710131. doi: 10.3389/feart.2021.710131. Posted with permission. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.