Quantifying periglacial erosion: Insights on a glacial sediment budget, Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

Colin R. O'Farrell, Arjun Heimsath, Daniel E. Lawson, Laura M. Jorgensen, Edward B. Evenson, Grahame Larson, Jon Denner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Glacial erosion rates are estimated to be among the highest in the world. Few studies have attempted, however, to quantify the flux of sediment from the periglacial landscape to a glacier. Here, erosion rates from the nonglacial landscape above the Matanuska Glacier, Alaska are presented and compare with an 8-yr record of proglacial suspended sediment yield. Non-glacial lowering rates range from 1·8 ± 0·5 mm yr-1 to 8·5 ± 3·4 mm yr-1 from estimates of rock fall and debris-flow fan volumes. An average erosion rate of 0·08 ± 0·04 mm yr-1 from eight convex-up ridge crests was determined using in situ produced cosmogenic 10Be. Extrapolating these rates, based on landscape morphometry, to the Matanuska basin (58% ice-cover), it was found that nonglacial processes account for an annual sediment flux of 2·3 ± 1·0 × 106 t. Suspended sediment data for 8 years and an assumed bedload to estimate the annual sediment yield at the Matanuska terminus to be 2·9 ± 1·0 × 106 t, corresponding to an erosion rate of 1·8 ± 0·6 mm yr-1: nonglacial sources therefore account for 80 ± 45% of the proglacial yield. A similar set of analyses were used for a small tributary sub-basin (32% ice-cover) to determine an erosion rate of 12·1 ± 6·9 mm yr-1, based on proglacial sediment yield, with the nonglacial sediment flux equal to 10 ± 7% of the proglacial yield. It is suggested that erosion rates by nonglacial processes are similar to inferred subglacial rates, such that the ice-free regions of a glaciated landscape contribute significantly to the glacial sediment budget. The similar magnitude of nonglacial and glacial rates implies that partially glaciated landscapes will respond rapidly to changes in climate and base level through a rapid nonglacial response to glacially driven incision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2008-2022
Number of pages15
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number15
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009


  • Be
  • Cosmogenic nuclides
  • Glaciation
  • Periglacial erosion
  • Sediment yield

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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