Surveying supraglacial ponds using unmanned surface vessel

Image of unmanned surface vehicle for surveying supraglacial ponds

Surveying supraglacial ponds using unmanned surface vessel

Aug 28 2017

We used an unmanned surface vessel (USV) to autonomously collect sonar depth measurements for 24 supraglacial ponds to derive the first empirical relationship between their area and volume applicable to the size distribution of ponds commonly encountered on debris‐covered glaciers. Additionally, we instrumented nine ponds with thermistors and three with pressure transducers, characterizing their thermal regime and capturing three pond drainage events. Our observations of seasonal pond growth and drainage with their associated calculations of stored thermal energy have implications for glacier ice flow, the progressive enlargement and sudden collapse of englacial conduits, and the location of glacier ablation hot‐spots where ponds and ice cliffs interact. Additionally, the evolutionary trajectory of these ponds controls large proglacial lake formation in deglaciating environments.

This study represents a test case of the portable USV technology in an extreme environment.

Cameron Scott Watson Duncan J. Quincey Jonathan L. Carrivick Mark W. Smith Ann V. Rowan Robert Richardson (2018) Heterogeneous water storage and thermal regime of supraglacial ponds on debris‐covered glaciers. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 43 (1) 229-241. Doi:10.1002/esp.4236. Read publication.

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