In GPR profiles, ice is usually imaged as a mostly electromagnetic transparent facies. However, diffraction events, as well as internal layering, can be also observed. In some cases, the bedrock below glaciers is masked by dense diffractions usually interpreted as the effect of liquid water pockets inside the so-called warm ice. However, the actual physical meaning of such GPR facies is not always obvious, because it can be related also to mixed debris and ice deposits.
We adopted a strategy well known in medical sciences and referred as “differential diagnosis” in order to infer which is the actual meaning of a high scattering facies imaged within the Eastern Gran Zebrù glacier (Central Italian Alps) and, more generally, of all the internal glacier features. In fact, in many cases, there is no direct information to limit the subjectivity of geophysical interpretation; therefore, we provide all the discriminative hypotheses based on both independent and integrated criteria including GPR attribute analysis, imaging effects, reflection analysis, GPR frequency evaluations combined with geomorphological and remote sensing data obtained by two photogrammetric UAV and thermal infrared surveys.
On the basis of the differential diagnosis, we concluded that the high scattering zone embedded within the studied glacier is most likely related to a mixture of ice and debris probably formed during a past shrinking phase. Beside this case study, this approach could be helpful in other GPR glaciological surveys, in which the target is related not only to the bedrock detection, but also to a detailed analysis of the internal facies of a glacier.