Earth Sciences, Department of

Receive updates for this collection

Multi-decadal Reduction in Glacier Velocities and Mechanisms Driving Deceleration at Polythermal White Glacier, Arctic Canada

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2017-02-27
Abstract: 

Annual and seasonal surface velocities measured continuously from 1960 to 1970 at White Glacier, a 14 km long polythermal valley glacier spanning ~100–1800 m a.s.l., provide the most comprehensive early record of ice dynamics in the Canadian Arctic. Through comparison with differential GPS-derived velocity data spanning 2012–16, we find reductions in mean annual velocity by 31 and 38% at lower elevations (600 and 400 m a.s.l.). These are associated with decreased internal ice deformation due to ice thinning and reduced basal motion likely due to increased hydraulic efficiency in recent years. At higher elevation (~850 m a.s.l.) there is no detectable change in annual velocity and the expected decrease in internal deformation rates due to ice thinning is offset by increased basal motion in both summer and winter, likely attributable to supraglacial melt accessing a still inefficient subglacial drainage system. Decreases in mass flux at lower elevations since the 1960s cannot explain the observed elevation loss of ~20 m, meaning that ice thinning along the glacier trunk is primarily a function of downwasting rather than changing ice dynamics. The current response of the glacier exemplifies steady thinning, velocity slowdown and upstream retreat of the ELA but, because the glacier has an unstable geometry with considerable mass in the 1300–1500 m elevation range, a retreat of the ELA to >1300 plausible within 25–40 years, could trigger runaway wastage.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Estimating Winter Balance and Its Uncertainty from Direct Measurements of Snow Depth and Density on Alpine Glaciers

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2018-09-26
Abstract: 

Accurately estimating winter surface mass balance on glaciers is central to assessing glacier health and predicting glacier run-off. However, measuring and modelling snow distribution is inherently difficult in mountainous terrain. Here, we explore rigorous statistical methods of estimating winter balance and its uncertainty from multiscale measurements of snow depth and density. In May 2016, we collected over 9000 manual measurements of snow depth across three glaciers in the St. Elias Mountains, Yukon, Canada. Linear regression, combined with cross-validation and Bayesian model averaging, as well as ordinary kriging are used to interpolate point-scale values to glacier-wide estimates of winter balance. Elevation and a wind-redistribution parameter exhibit the highest correlations with winter balance, but the relationship varies considerably between glaciers. A Monte Carlo analysis reveals that the interpolation itself introduces more uncertainty than the assignment of snow density or the representation of grid-scale variability. For our study glaciers, the winter balance uncertainty from all assessed sources ranges from 0.03 to 0.15 m w.e. (5–39%). Despite the challenges associated with estimating winter balance, our results are consistent with a regional-scale winter-balance gradient.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Precious Metal Enrichment at the Myra Falls VMS Deposit, British Columbia, Canada

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2018-11-15
Abstract: 

Gold, present as electrum, in the Battle Gap, Ridge North-West, HW, and Price deposits at the Myra Falls mine, occurs in late veinlets cutting the earlier volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) lithologies. The ore mineral assemblage containing the electrum comprises dominantly galena, tennantite, bornite, sphalerite, chalcopyrite, pyrite, and rarely stromeyerite, and is defined as an Au-Zn-Pb-As-Sb association. The gangue is comprised of barite, quartz, and minor feldspathic volcanogenic sedimentary rocks and clay, comprised predominantly of kaolinite with subordinate illite. The deposition of gold as electrum in the baritic upper portions of the sulphide lenses occurs at relatively shallow water depths beneath the sea floor. Primary, pseudosecondary, and secondary fluid inclusions, petrographically related to gold, show boiling fluid inclusion assemblages in the range of 123 to 173 °C, with compositions and eutectic melt temperatures consistent with seawater at approximately 3.2 wt % NaCl equivalent. The fluid inclusion homogenization temperatures are consistent with boiling seawater corresponding to water depths ranging from 15 to 125 m. Slightly more dilute brines corresponding to salinities of approximately 1 wt % NaCl indicate that there is input from very low-salinity brines, which could represent a transition from subaqueous VMS to epithermal-like conditions for precious metal enrichment, mixing with re-condensed vapor, or very low-salinity igneous fluids.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Lithostratigraphic and Magnetostratigraphic Data From Late Cenozoic Glacial and Proglacial Sequences Underlying the Altiplano at La Paz, Bolivia

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2018-05-19
Abstract: 

We provide lithostratigraphic and magnetostratigraphic data derived from a Plio-Pleistocene continental sediment sequence underlying the Altiplano plateau at La Paz, Bolivia. The record comprises six sections along the upper Río La Paz valley, totaling over one kilometre of exposure and forming a ~20-km transect oblique to the adjacent Cordillera Real. Lithostratigraphic characterization includes lithologic and stratigraphic descriptions of units and their contacts. We targeted gravel and diamicton units for paleomagnetic sampling to address gaps in the only previous magnetostratigraphic study from this area. Paleomagnetic data – magnetic susceptibility and primary remanent magnetization revealed by progressive alternating field demagnetization – are derived from 808 individually oriented samples of flat-lying, fine-grained sediments. The datasets enable characterization of paleo-surfaces within the sequence, correlation between stratigraphic sections, and differentiation of asynchronous, but lithologically similar units. Correlation of the composite polarity sequence to the geomagnetic polarity time scale supports a range of late Cenozoic paleoenvironmental topics of regional to global importance: the number and ages of early glaciations in the tropical Andes; interhemispheric comparison of paleoclimate during the Plio-Pleistocene climatic transition; timing of and controls on inter-American faunal exchange; and the variability of Earth's paleomagnetic field.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Changing Contribution of Peak Velocity Events to Annual Velocities Following a Multi-decadal Slowdown at White Glacier

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2018-02-12
Abstract: 

As the focus of intensive glaciological studies in the 1960–70s, White Glacier on Axel Heiberg Island, Canada, has played an important role in understanding the dynamics of mostly-cold polythermal glaciers in the high Arctic. In this study, we examine the magnitude, duration and timing of peak velocity events in the summers of 2013–15 using continuous dual-frequency GPS observations, and compare them with similar measurements made in 1968. Summer speed-up events in 1968 and 2014, in which ice velocities reached 200% above winter values, were found to occur in conjunction with formation and drainage of an ice-marginal lake. Despite thinning of the glacier by >20 m and a decrease in annual surface velocities of 15–35% since the 1960s, the relative magnitude and duration of these peak events has increased, particularly at lower elevations, in comparison with the observations at the same locations many decades ago. Given the long-term slowdown of the glacier, the relative contribution of summer displacement to the net annual motion has therefore increased significantly, with summer motion over the span of <2 months now accounting for nearly half of the total annual displacement.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Resolving the Architecture and Early Evolution of a Forearc Basin (Georgia Basin, Canada) Using Detrital Zircon

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-10-25
Abstract: 

Convergent-margin basins (CMBs) are commonly associated with active arcs, and hence are rich in detrital zircon (DZ) whose ages closely reflect the timing of deposition. Consequently, maximum depositional ages (MDA) from DZ geochronology can be employed to resolve the stratigraphy and evolution of CMBs. Herein, we use DZ to revise the internal architecture of the lower Nanaimo Group, which partially comprises the fill of the (forearc) Georgia (or Nanaimo) Basin. Maximum depositional ages and multi-dimensional scaling of DZ age distributions are employed to determine chronologic equivalency of strata and assess sediment provenance variability within the pre-existing lithostratigraphic framework. The results are compared to a recently developed sequence stratigraphic framework for the lower Nanaimo Group. The basal lithostratigraphic unit of the Nanaimo Group, the Comox Formation (Fm), comprises strata that are neither time correlative nor genetically related. The three lithostratigraphic units directly overlying the Comox Fm (Haslam, Extension, and Protection formations) comprise strata with similar genetic affinities and MDAs that indicate deposition of these units was not always sequential and locally was contemporaneous. Through this work, we provide an example of how MDAs from DZ geochronology in CMBs can resolve basin-scale stratigraphic relations, and identify chronological changes in sediment provenance.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Pursuit of Optimal Design for Winter-Balance Surveys of Valley-Glacier Ablation Areas

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-08-06
Abstract: 

Efficient collection of snow depth and density data is important in field surveys used to estimate the winter surface mass balance of glaciers. Simultaneously extensive, high resolution, and accurate snow-depth measurements can be difficult to obtain, so optimisation of measurement configuration and spacing is valuable in any survey design. Using in-situ data from the ablation areas of three glaciers in the St. Elias Mountains of Yukon, Canada, we consider six possible survey designs for snow-depth sampling and N = 6–200+ sampling locations per glacier. For each design and number of sampling locations, we use a linear regression on topographic parameters to estimate winter balance at unsampled locations and compare these estimates with known values. Average errors decrease sharply with increasing sample size up to N ≈ 10–15, but reliable error reduction for any given sampling scheme requires significantly higher N. Lower errors are often, but not always, associated with sampling schemes that employ quasi-regular spacing. With both real- and synthetic data, the common centreline survey produces the poorest results overall. The optimal design often requires sampling near the glacier margin, even at low N. The unconventional “hourglass” design performed best of all designs tested when evaluated against known values of winter balance.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Pursuit of Optimal Design for Winter-Balance Surveys of Valley-Glacier Ablation Areas

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-08-06
Abstract: 

Efficient collection of snow depth and density data is important in field surveys used to estimate the winter surface mass balance of glaciers. Simultaneously extensive, high resolution, and accurate snow-depth measurements can be difficult to obtain, so optimisation of measurement configuration and spacing is valuable in any survey design. Using in-situ data from the ablation areas of three glaciers in the St. Elias Mountains of Yukon, Canada, we consider six possible survey designs for snow-depth sampling and N = 6–200+ sampling locations per glacier. For each design and number of sampling locations, we use a linear regression on topographic parameters to estimate winter balance at unsampled locations and compare these estimates with known values. Average errors decrease sharply with increasing sample size up to N ≈ 10–15, but reliable error reduction for any given sampling scheme requires significantly higher N. Lower errors are often, but not always, associated with sampling schemes that employ quasi-regular spacing. With both real- and synthetic data, the common centreline survey produces the poorest results overall. The optimal design often requires sampling near the glacier margin, even at low N. The unconventional “hourglass” design performed best of all designs tested when evaluated against known values of winter balance.

Document type: 
Article
File(s): 

Changes in Ground Deformation Prior To and Following A Large Urbanlandslide in La Paz, Bolivia Revealed By Advanced InSAR

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-03-29
Abstract: 

We characterize and compare creep preceding and following the complex 2011 Pampahasi landslide (∼40 Mm3±50 %) in the city of La Paz, Bolivia, using spaceborne radar interferometry (InSAR) that combines displacement records from both distributed and point scatterers. The failure remobilized deposits of an ancient complex landslide in weakly cemented, predominantly fine-grained sediments and affected ∼1.5 km2 of suburban development. During the 30 months preceding failure, about half of the toe area was creeping at 3–8 cm a−1 and localized parts of the scarp area showed displacements of up to 14 cm a−1. Changes in deformation in the 10 months following the landslide demonstrate an increase in slope activity and indicate that stress redistribution resulting from the discrete failure decreased stability of parts of the slope. During that period, most of the landslide toe and areas near the head scarp accelerated, respectively, to 4–14 and 14 cm a−1. The extent of deformation increased to cover most, or probably all, of the 2011 landslide as well as adjacent parts of the slope and plateau above. The InSAR-measured displacement patterns, supplemented by field observations and optical satellite images, reveal complex slope activity; kinematically complex, steady-state creep along pre-existing sliding surfaces accelerated in response to heavy rainfall, after which slightly faster and expanded steady creeping was re-established. This case study demonstrates that high-quality ground-surface motion fields derived using spaceborne InSAR can help to characterize creep mechanisms, quantify spatial and temporal patterns of slope activity, and identify isolated small-scale instabilities; such details are especially useful where knowledge of landslide extent and activity is limited. Characterizing slope activity before, during, and after the 2011 Pampahasi landslide is particularly important for understanding landslide hazard in La Paz, half of which is underlain by similar large paleolandslides.

Document type: 
Article

Late Mesozoic Reactivation of Precambrian Basement Structures and their Resulting Effects on the Sequence Stratigraphic Architecture of the Viking Formation of East-Central Alberta, Canada

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Date created: 
2019-02-06
Abstract: 

The Lower Cretaceous Viking Formation is a siliciclastic unit that occurs in the subsurface of Alberta in the Western Canadian sedimentary basin. This study focuses on a lowstand paleoshoreline trend extending along strike between two hydrocarbon-producing fields, Joarcam and Judy Creek (250 km NW). The Viking Formation in these fields records depositional thicknesses ranging from 20 to 30 m. Between these two fields, however, the formation is anomalously thick (45–60 m), complicating the recognition and correlation of key stratigraphic surfaces. Marine flooding surfaces above and below the Viking Formation are routinely employed as stratigraphic datums in order to remove postdepositional deformation and facilitate the development of a sequence stratigraphic framework. However, as each successive surface is employed as the datum, the other flooding surfaces within the formation become distorted, resulting in unrealistic depositional geometries. These geometries are best explained to be the result of structural readjustments during Viking deposition.

The Precambrian lithosphere of the Canadian Shield forms the Western Canadian sedimentary basin basement, with major structures previously mapped using gravity and magnetic anomaly studies. Locally, the increased accommodation observed within the Viking Formation of central Alberta is attributed to differential reactivation of the Paleoproterozoic Snowbird tectonic zone basement structures, which flank the areas of anomalously thick deposits and trend approximately normal to the regional strike of the Western Canadian sedimentary basin. The Snowbird tectonic zone faults are interpreted to have been reactivated during renewed tectonic loading in the southern Canadian Cordillera during Aptian–Albian time, causing subtle readjustments along basement faults that caused variable syndepositional subsidence. By selecting successive datums, the gross Viking interval can be recognized to have accumulated prior to, during, and following structural reactivation.

Document type: 
Article
File(s):