The hydrology of glacier‐bed overdeepenings: Sediment transport mechanics, drainage system morphology, and geomorphological implications

Darrel A. Swift (Lead / Corresponding author), Guy D. Tallentire, Daniel Farinotti, Simon J. Cook, William J. Higson, Robert G. Bryant

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)
    96 Downloads (Pure)


    Evacuation of basal sediment by subglacial drainage is an important mediator of rates of glacial erosion and glacier flow. Glacial erosion patterns can produce closed basins (i.e., overdeepenings) in glacier beds, thereby introducing adverse bed gradients that are hypothesized to reduce drainage system efficiency and thus favour basal sediment accumulation. To establish how the presence of a terminal overdeepening might mediate seasonal drainage system evolution and glacial sediment export, we measured suspended sediment transport from Findelengletscher, Switzerland during late August and early September 2016. Analyses of these data demonstrate poor hydraulic efficiency of drainage pathways in the terminus region but high sediment availability. Specifically, the rate of increase of sediment concentration with discharge was found to be significantly lower than that anticipated if channelized flow paths were present. Sediment availability to these flow paths was also higher than would be anticipated for discrete bedrock-floored subglacial channels. Our findings indicate that subglacial drainage in the terminal region of Findelengletscher is dominated by distributed flow where entrainment capacity increases only marginally with discharge, but flow has extensive access to an abundant sediment store. This high availability maintains sediment connectivity between the glacial and proglacial realm and means daily sediment yield is unusually high relative to yields exhibited by similar Alpine glaciers. We present a conceptual model illustrating the potential influence of ice-bed morphology on subglacial drainage evolution and sediment evacuation mechanics, patterns and yields, and recommend that bed morphology should be an explicit consideration when monitoring and evaluating glaciated basin sediment export rates.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2264-2278
    Number of pages15
    JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
    Issue number11
    Early online date3 Jun 2021
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2021


    • erosion
    • glaciology
    • overdeepening
    • sediment transport
    • subglacial hydrology

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Geography, Planning and Development
    • Earth-Surface Processes
    • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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