Researchers develop new method for analyzing rocky glaciers

(ORDO NEWS) — The researchers used a new method to determine ice thickness on rock glaciers and the ratio of ice to debris to create maps of four rock glaciers in Colorado, Wyoming and Alaska. The method allows for more accurate measurements of glaciers than was previously possible.

Work that uses this method will allow scientists to better understand the water resources on Earth and Mars, as well as how resilient this type of ice is to climate change on both planets.

Rock glaciers are hidden under the rubble, their movement is influenced by the stones contained within them. “You can think of rocks as an insulating coating,” said Tyler Man, lead author of the study.

“After a certain thickness, the insulation basically stops the melt, allowing the ice to persist and slowly move or flow down the valley at altitudes and temperatures where pure ice can completely melt.”

Glaciers can move across landscapes. However, the debris in the rock glaciers causes them to flow very slowly.

Stone glaciers are usually smaller and thinner than pure ice glaciers, measuring only a couple of kilometers in length, several tens or hundreds of meters wide, and 15 to 60 meters thick.

Pure ice glaciers, on the other hand, can be many kilometers long and hundreds of meters thick.

Using two different antenna configurations, the researchers used ground-penetrating radar to measure the speed of the radar wave and the angle at which the wave is reflected from the surface.

The two antenna configurations allowed the researchers to better calculate the size of the rock glacier. The scientists also estimated the ratio of ice to rock at each location using the radar wave speed.

“With a map of debris thickness and ice concentration, we can significantly characterize the ability of stony glaciers to withstand the effects of climate warming compared to glaciers with pure ice,” Meng said.

Martian rock glaciers are still not well understood, Maine says, but they are known to typically occur between 30 and 60 degrees latitude in both hemispheres of the planet and are much older than Martian polar ice.

One of the most important tasks for scientists is to determine the thickness of the surface rocks that cover the glaciers on Mars.

“Our goal is to use these stony glaciers on Earth as a proxy for processes on Mars,” Meng said. “By mapping the distribution of debris thickness on Earth, we are trying to understand how this debris thickness can change on Mars as well.

In addition, studying the differences in flow parameters between pure ice and debris-rich ice will help simulations for the Martian case as well.”

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