Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Geosciences (PhD)

Degree Level





Matthew Covington

Committee Member

Kristin Poinar

Second Committee Member

Kevin Befus

Third Committee Member

John Shaw


Ablation area, Arctic, Cryosphere, Glacial hydrology, Glaciology, Polar region


In the ablation zone of land terminating sectors of the Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS), water pressures at the bed control ice motion variability on diurnal and seasonal timescales. During the melt season, large volumes of surface meltwater access the ice-bed interface through moulins.Moulins are large vertical shafts that connect the supraglacial and subglacial drainage systems. Moulins form when a crevasse intersects a surface meltwater source that can drive hydrofracture to the bed of the ice sheet. Upon reaching the bed, meltwater can establish and sustain an efficient, channelized drainage system. Due to the technical impossibility of physically exploring underwater passages beneath the GrIS, the subglacial drainage system must be studied through geophysical methods. To date, measurements of water level variability within moulins and boreholes have proved to be critical for constraining models. However, direct hydrologic measurements from the GrIS are sparse, due to the remoteness and harsh conditions of the ice sheet.

The work presented in this dissertation combines simple physically based mathematical models with direct measurements from the ablation portion of Sermeq Avannarleq, in west Greenland to advance our understanding of the influence of moulin geometry and life span on glacier dynamics.

In Chapter 2, I investigate the moulin life cycle within several neighboring surface catchments within the GrIS ablation zone. A combination of remote sensing and ground observations of moulin locations over two to three years reveals an annual pattern of systematic formation and abandonment of moulins after they are advected down-glacier.In Chapter 3, I use a modified single conduit model to explore the role of moulin shape and size on hydraulic head variability within moulins. This model shows that only the englacial storage capacity within the range of water level fluctuations affects the oscillation range of moulin hydraulic head, which controls subglacial channel water pressure dynamics. Further, the model shows that depth-varying changes in englacial water storage control the temporal shape of the head oscillations. Finally, in Chapter 4, I simulate the moulin water level variability in a moulin we instrumented in 2017-2018 using the recently developed Moulin Shape (MouSh) model. The MouSh model requires additional subglacial baseflow to simulate an accurate diurnal range of head oscillation. We hypothesize that this additional baseflow is the result of strong network connectivity with other moulins through a channelized subglacial drainage system, potentially supplemented by basal or non-local, upstream inputs.

Additional work is necessary to accurately characterize moulin positions and life cycles, and to determine whether the observed annual formation and abandonment is widespread. Such characterization would improve the simulation of moulin inputs in models. In addition, further knowledge of the shape of moulins around the equilibrium head elevation would improve englacial storage parameterization in subglacial hydrological models and aid predictions of coupling between meltwater and ice motion under future melt scenarios. Finally, this work suggests that the connectivity of the subglacial network needs further study, to improve our understanding on how local and non-local drivers influence subglacial water pressures and ice sliding.