Arnold, N. and Richards, K. and Willis, I. and Sharp, M. (1998)

Initial results from a distributed, physically based model of glacier hydrology

Cite key
Hydrological Processes
This paper describes the development and testing of a distributed, physically based model of glacier hydrology. The model is used to investigate the behaviour of the hydrological system of Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Valais, Switzerland. The model has an hourly time-step and three main components: a surface energy balance submodel, a surface flow routing submodel and a subglacial hydrology submodel. The energy balance submodel is used to calculate meltwater production over the entire glacier surface. The surface routing submodel routes meltwater over the glacier surface from where it is produced to where it either enters the subglacial hydrological system via moulins or runs off the glacier surface. The subglacial hydrology submodel calculates water flow in a network of conduits, which can evolve over the course of a melt season simulation in response to changing meltwater inputs. The main model inputs are a digital elevation model of the glacier surface and its surrounding topography, start-of-season snow depth distribution data and meteorological data. Model performance is evaluated by comparing predictions with field measurements of proglacial stream discharge, subglacial water pressure (measured in a borehole drilled to the glacier bed) and water velocities inferred from dye tracer tests. The model performs best in comparison with the measured proglacial stream discharges, but some of the substantial features of the other two records are also reproduced. In particular, the model results show the high amplitude water pressure cycles observed in the borehole in the mid-melt season and the complex velocity/discharge hysteresis cycles observed in dye tracer tests. The results show that to model outflow hydrographs from glacierized catchments effectively, it is necessary to simulate spatial and temporal variations in surface melt rates, the delaying effect of the surface snowpack and the configuration of the subglacial drainage system itself. The model's ability to predict detailed spatial and temporal patterns of subglacial water pressures and velocities should make it a valuable tool for aiding the understanding of glacier dynamics and hydrochemistry.