To avoid some of the limitations of studying soft-bed processes through boreholes, a prism of simulated till (1.8 m ?? 1.6 m ?? 0.45 m) with extensive instrumentation was constructed in a trough blasted in the rock bed of Engabreen, a temperate glacier in Norway. Tunnels there provide access to the bed beneath 213 m of ice. Pore-water pressure was regulated in the prism by pumping water to it. During experiments lasting 7-12 days, the glacier regelated downward into the prism to depths of 50-80 mm, accreting ice-infiltrated till at rates predicted by theory. During periods of sustained high pore-water pressure (70-100% of overburden), ice commonly slipped over the prism, due to a water layer at the prism surface. Deformation of the prism was activated when this layer thinned to a sub-millimeter thickness. Shear strain in the till was pervasive and decreased with depth. A model of slip by ploughing of ice-infiltrated till across the prism surface accounts for the slip that occurred when effective pressure was sufficiently low or high. Slip at low effective pressures resulted from water-layer thickening that increased non-linearly with decreasing effective pressure. If sufficiently widespread, such slip over soft glacier beds, which involves no viscous deformation resistance, may instigate abrupt increases in glacier velocity.
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Soft-bed experiments beneath Engabreen, Norway: Regelation, infiltration, basal slip and bed deformation