Bedrock sculpting under an active alpine glacier revealed from cosmic-ray muon radiography

R. Nishiyama, A. Ariga, T. Ariga, A. Lechmann, D. Mair, C. Pistillo, P. Scampoli, P. G. Valla, M. Vladymyrov, A. Ereditato, F. Schlunegger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Mountain glaciers form landscapes with U-shaped valleys, roche moutonées and overdeepenings through bedrock erosion. However, little evidence for active glacial carving has been provided particularly for areas above the Equilibrium Line Altitude (ELA) where glaciers originate. This is mainly due to our lack of information about the shape of the bedrock underneath active glaciers in highly elevated areas. In the past years, the bedrock morphology underneath active glaciers has been studied by geophysical methods in order to infer the subglacial mechanisms of bedrock erosion. However, these comprise surveys on the glaciers’ surface, from where it has been difficult to investigate the lateral boundary between the ice and the bedrock with sufficient resolution. Here we perform a muon-radiographic inspection of the Eiger glacier (Switzerland, European Alps) with the aid of cosmic-ray muon attenuation. We find a reach (600 × 300 m) within the accumulation area where strong lateral glacial erosion has cut nearly vertically into the underlying bedrock. This suggests that the Eiger glacier has profoundly sculpted its bedrock in its accumulation area. This also reveals that the cosmic-ray muon radiography is an ideal technology to reconstruct the shape of the bedrock underneath an active glacier.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6970
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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