Rock glacier composition and structure from radio wave speed analysis with dipping reflector correction

Tyler M. Meng, Eric I. Petersen, John W. Holt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


We assess the composition and geometry of four individual rock glaciers in Alaska, Wyoming and Colorado by measuring their radio wave speed and applying these results to ground-penetrating radar depth corrections and dielectric mixing models. Our method includes a correction for subsurface reflector dip angle, which we show can lead to an incorrect determination of wave speeds using common midpoint configurations. By observing the radar properties of the rock glaciers and their supraglacial debris, we find that some of the sites exhibit nearly pure ice cores, and all of the sites indicate volumetric ice fractions >50%. These results have implications for terrestrial glaciology and hydrology because the present ice volume is connected to past ice accumulation and subsurface ice preservation, which may affect the future availability of alpine water resources. An understanding of the processes that govern rock glacier evolution over a wide range of latitudes and elevations will also contribute to the exploration of planetary surfaces such as Mars, which hosts a significant population of debris-covered glaciers. Our subsurface composition and geometry estimates will inform simulations of rock glacier formation and evolution to test hypothesized ice origin mechanisms along with the preservation of climate signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)639-657
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Issue number275
StatePublished - Jun 21 2023


  • Debris-covered glaciers
  • ground-penetrating radar
  • permafrost
  • supraglacial debris

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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