Glacial geomorphology, fluvial geomorphology, hillslope geomorphology, submarine geomorphology, tectonic geomorphology...

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Sunday, 31 July 2011

A hypertext for the appreciation of glaciers and how they work

Glaciers and Glacial Geology is a useful website from students at Montana State University giving information about all aspects of the cryosphere, for complete beginners (Introductory section) and those of us who are just forgetful (Advanced section). Lots of illustrations, some hand drawn, and animations and even more enthusiasm. The reference list is missing, but then this is an undergraduate project...

Friday, 29 July 2011

St Beatus Caves field trip with Philipp Haeuselmann

The XVIII INQUA Congress mid-conference field trips also offered the opportunity to stay a little closer to Bern and learn about the erosional history of the Berner Oberland. Philipp Haeuselmann and Frank Preusser led a double-header to the Aareschlucht and St Beatus Caves.

The Aareschlucht is a spectacular gorge incised into a limestone riegel which transects the Aare valley east of Interlaken. The Aare is a sizeable river here, and enters the gorge beneath vertical cliffs 10-15m apart. The most incredible feature of the gorge, though, is the way the walls on both sides develop amazing overhangs; at one point the walkway above the river occupies the whole gap between the walls on either side. There's also some impressive Swiss engineering to have put in a walkway down the gorge at all...

The St Beatus Caves represent the easily-accessible part of a giant cave system used by Haeuselmann et al. (2007) to investigate the longer-term history of the region. Using cosmogenic isotope burial dating of cave sediments, Haeuselmann et al. discovered a 10-fold increase in incision rates in the Aare valley at the Mid-Pleistocene Transition. It was fantastic to see some of the caves involved in the study, the complex history of phreatic (under the water table) and vadose (above the water table) caves in the system, and the incredible volumes of water moving in subterranean rivers after heavy rainfall! Plus our short walk represented a tiny fraction of the entire, enormous cave network.

Aletsch Glacier field trip with Meredith Kelly

View of the Great Aletsch Glacier from Chalchofu (2051 m), with the Eiger in the background
The INQUA mid-conference field trips offered plenty of choice of beautiful Alpine scenery to visit, but Meredith Kelly's trip to the Aletsch Glacier, via a very cold Grimsel Pass, has to have been one of the best trips! After a brief stop at Grimsel Pass, where, as promised, horizontal snow and cold winds made most participants regret not bringing more fleeces, we drove through the Rhone Valley to get a cable car up for a hike along the left lateral Esesen moraine. The upper Rhone Valley supported the highest ice domes of the LGM Alpine ice cap, and Meredith showed us sites where she had taken samples for cosmogenic nuclide exposure age dating to determine the LGM extent and retreat rate of the glacier, published in Kelly et al. (2004a). The glaciers in this region have flowed over tough gneissic basement rock, so that the LGM trimlines at ~2700–2800 m above sea level (Kelly et al., 2004b) are clearly visible on the valley sides, with the terrace of the Hotel Reiderfurka conveniently located for a leisurely viewing of these features over a few local beers.