Brown, G. H. and Sharp, M. J. and Tranter, M. and Gurnell, A. M. and Nienow, P. W. (1994)

Impact of post-mixing chemical-reactions on the major ion chemistry of bulk meltwaters draining the Haut Glacier D'Arolla, Valais, Switzerland

Cite key
Hydrological Processes
Until now, alpine glacial meltwaters have been assumed to consist of two components, dilute quickflow and concentrated delayed flow, the mixing of which has been regarded as chemically conservative for the major dissolved ions and electrical conductivity. Dye tracing results suggest that this two-component model adequately represents the sub-glacial hydrology of the Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Switzerland. However, laboratory dissolution experiments in which various concentrations of glacial rock flour are placed in dilute solutions show that this rock flour is highly reactive and suggest that bulk meltwaters may acquire significant amounts of solute through rapid chemical reactions with suspended sediment which occur after mixing of the two components. This view is supported by detailed analysis of variations in the hydrochemistry of meltwaters draining from the Haut Glacier d'Arolla over three diurnal cycles during the 1989 melt season. Variations in the composition of bulk meltwaters are controlled by two main factors: dilution of the delayed flow component by quickflow, and the extent of post-mixing reactions. The latter depends on the suspended sediment concentration in bulk meltwaters and on the duration of contact between these waters and suspended sediment. Seasonal changes in the magnitude of these factors result in changes in the character and causes of diurnal variations in meltwater chemistry. In June, these variations reflect discharge-related variations in residence time within a distributed subglacial drainage system; in July, when a channelized drainage system exists beneath the lower glacier, they primarily reflect the dilution of delayed flow by quickflow; in August, when suspended sediment concentrations are particularly high, they reflect varying degrees of solute acquisition by post-mixing reactions with suspended sediment that take place in arterial channels at the glacier bed.