EGU Blogs

Geology Photo of the Week #35

This edition of the photo of the week highlights something I feel that I should have explained a long time ago: my banner photo. The banner photo above is more than just a pretty picture. It actually illustrates, very beautifully, a truly interesting phenomenon that can be encountered in Arctic watersheds. I speak of the aufeis, pronounced oh-fyse, which is the giant sheet of ice covering the river. Aufeis form in one of two ways. The first is when an ice dam forms in a river and water piles up behind it and then overflows and freezes upward creating an aufeis. The second is when aufeis occur at points of groundwater discharge into a river. Groundwater, which has a much higher temperature than surface water during the winter can discharge year-round. Therefore, it continues to discharge even when temperatures are well below freezing. However, when it discharges into the frigid temperature of an Arctic winter it rapidly freezes causing the development of an aufeis at the discharge point, which is the case in the pictures below. It is possible to distinguish the two types of formation by analyzing the stable isotopes of 18O and 2H in the ice to determine its source: groundwater or river water.

A beautiful panorama of the Tombstone Mountains and the North Klondike River with an aufeis on it in May 2010. (Photo: Matt Herod)

Getting a closer look at the aufeis. You can start to see the layering within the ice. (Photo: Matt Herod)

A nice pic showing all of the ice layers within the aufeis. In the past these have been samples for their isotopic composition as part of groundwater studies.(Photo: Matt Herod)

These aufeis are relatively small. Only a few sqaure kilometres max. However, they can grow into massive ice bodies. The largest known is at the Moma River, Siberia and is between 70 and 110 km^2 (Clark and Lauriol, 1997).

One of my all time favourite pictures shoing the Tombstone Mountain range in the fall of 2011. On the left you can see the river and all the braided channels that are covered by the aufeis in the pictures above. (Photo: Matt Herod)



Clark, I. D., & Lauriol, B. (1997). Northern Aufeis of the Firth River Basin, Northern Yukon, Canada: Insights into Permafrost Hydrogeology and Karst. Arctic and Alpine Research, 29(2), 240–252.


Matt Herod is a Ph.D Candidate in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. His research focuses on the geochemistry of iodine and the radioactive isotope iodine-129. His work involves characterizing the cycle and sources of 129I in the Canadian Arctic and applying this to long term radioactive waste disposal and the effect of Fukushima fallout. His project includes field work and lab work at the André E. Lalonde 3MV AMS Laboratory. Matt blogs about any topic in geology that interests him, and attempts to make these topics understandable to everyone. Tweets as @GeoHerod.