Nienow, P. W. and Sharp, M. and Willis, I. C. (1998)

Seasonal changes in the morphology of the subglacial drainage system, Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Switzerland

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Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Dye tracing techniques were used to investigate the glacier-wide pattern of change in the englacial/subglacial drainage system of Haut Glacier d'Arolla during the ablation seasons of 1990 and 1991. Analysis of breakthrough curve characteristics indicate that over the course of a melt season, a system of major channels developed by headward growth at the expense of a hydraulically inefficient distributed system. By the end of the melt season, this channel system extended at least 3·3 km from the snout of the 4 km long glacier and drained the bulk of supraglacially derived meltwater passing through the glacier. The upper limit of the channel system closely followed the retreating snowline up-glacier. Rates of headward channel growth reached c. 65 m d−1, although these rates decreased in the upper 1 km of the glacier where snowline retreat exposed a patchy firn aquifer. It appears that the removal of snow (with its high albedo and significant water storage capacity) from the glacier surface resulted in a dramatic increase in the volume of runoff into moulins, and in the peakedness of daily runoff cycles. This induced transient high water pressures within the distributed drainage system, which caused it to evolve rapidly into a channelised system. It is therefore likely that, at a local scale, channel growth occurred down-glacier from moulins, and that the overall up-glacier-directed pattern of channel formation was caused by the retreating snowline exposing new moulins and crevasses to inputs of ice-derived meltwater. Damping of diurnal melt inputs by storage in the firm aquifer accounts for the slowing of channel growth in the upper glacier.