Evidence for deep icequakes in an Alpine glacier

N. Deichmann*, J. Ansorge, F. Scherbaum, A. Aschwanden, F. Bernardi, G. H. Gudmundsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


To obtain more reliable information about the focal-depth distribution of icequakes in April 1997 we operated an array of seven portable digital seismographs on Unteraargletscher, central Swiss Alps. Over 5000 events were detected by at least two instruments during the 9 day recording period. P-wave velocities (3770 m s-1) were determined from several calibration shots detonated at the glacier surface as well as in a 49 m deep borchole, whereas S-wave velocities (1860 m s-1) were derived from a simultaneous inversion for Vp/Vs applied to 169 icequakes. So far, hypocentral locations have been calculated for over 300 icequakes. Besides confirming the occurrence of shallow events associated with the opening of crevasses, our results show that a small but significant fraction of the hypocenters are located at or near the glacier bed. One event was found at an intermediate depth of about 120 m. Three-dimensional particle-motion diagrams of both explosions and icequakes clearly demonstrate that all vertical component seismograms from shallow sources are dominated by the Rayleigh wave. On the other hand, for events occuring at depths greater than about 40 m, the Rayleigh wave disappears almost entirely. Therefore, a qualitative analysis of the signal character provides direct information on the focal depth of an event and was used as an independent check of the locations obtained from traditional arrival-time inversions. Thus, our results demonstrate that deep icequakes do occur and that simple rheological models, according to which brittle deformation is restricted to the uppermost part of a glacier, may need revision.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-90
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of Glaciology
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


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