Groundwater - meltwater interaction in proglacial aquifers

O Dochartaigh, Brighid E.; MacDonald, Alan M. ORCID:; Black, Andrew R.; Everest, Jez; Wilson, Paul; Darling, W. George; Jones, Lee; Raines, Mike. 2019 Groundwater - meltwater interaction in proglacial aquifers. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 23. 4527-4539.

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Groundwater plays a significant role in glacial hydrology and can buffer changes to the timing and magnitude of meltwater flows. However, proglacial aquifer characteristics or groundwater dynamics in glacial catchments are rarely studied directly. We provide direct evidence of proglacial groundwater storage, and quantify multi-year groundwater-meltwater dynamics, through intensive and high resolution monitoring of the proglacial system of a rapidly retreating glacier, Virkisjökull, in SE Iceland. Proglacial unconsolidated glaciofluvial sediments comprise a highly permeable aquifer in which groundwater flow in the shallowest 20–40 m of the aquifer is equivalent to 4.5 % (2.6–5.8 %) of mean annual meltwater river flow, and 9.7 % (5.8–12.3 %) of winter flow. Groundwater flow through the entire aquifer thickness represents 9.8 % (3.6–21 %) of annual meltwater flow. Groundwater in the aquifer is actively recharged by local precipitation, both rainfall and snowmelt, and strongly influenced by individual precipitation events. Significant glacial meltwater influence on groundwater within the aquifer occurs in a 50–500 m river zone within which there are complex groundwater / meltwater exchanges. Stable isotopes, groundwater dynamics and temperature data demonstrate active recharge from river losses, especially in the summer melt season, with more than 25 % of groundwater in this part of the aquifer sourced from meltwater. Such proglacial aquifers are common globally, and future changes in glacier coverage and precipitation are likely to increase the significance of groundwater storage within them. The scale of proglacial groundwater flow and storage has important implications for measuring meltwater flux, for predicting future river flows, and for providing strategic water supplies in de-glaciating catchments.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 1027-5606
Additional Keywords: GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater, Catchment processes, Surface water interaction
Date made live: 28 Aug 2019 13:43 +0 (UTC)

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