Articles | Volume 11, issue 3
Research article
05 May 2017
Research article |  | 05 May 2017

Combined diurnal variations of discharge and hydrochemistry of the Isunnguata Sermia outlet, Greenland Ice Sheet

Joseph Graly, Joel Harrington, and Neil Humphrey

Abstract. In order to examine daily cycles in meltwater routing and storage in the Isunnguata Sermia outlet of the Greenland Ice Sheet, variations in outlet stream discharge and in major element hydrochemistry were assessed over a 6-day period in July 2013. Over 4 days, discharge was assessed from hourly photography of the outlet from multiple vantages, including where midstream naled ice provided a natural gauge. pH, electrical conductivity, suspended sediment, and major element and anion chemistry were measured in samples of stream water collected every 3 h.

Photography and stream observations reveal that although river width and stage have only slight diurnal variation, there are large diurnal changes in discharge shown by the doubling in width of what we term the active channel, which is characterized by large standing waves and fast flow. The concentration of dissolved solutes follows a sinusoidal diurnal cycle, except for large and variable increases in dissolved solutes during the stream's waning flow. Solute concentrations vary by  ∼  30 % between diurnal minima and maxima. Discharge maxima and minima lag temperature and surface melt by 3–7 h; diurnal solute concentration minima and maxima lag discharge by 3–6 h.

This phase shift between discharge and solute concentration suggests that during high flow, water is either encountering more rock material or is stored in longer contact with rock material. We suggest that expansion of a distributed subglacial hydrologic network into seldom accessed regions during high flow could account for these phenomena, and for a spike of partial silicate reaction products during waning flow, which itself suggests a pressure threshold-triggered release of stored water.

Short summary
At a major outlet of the Greenland Ice Sheet in West Greenland, we find that the chemical solutes in the emerging subglacial waters are out of phase with water discharge and can spike in concentration during waning flow. This suggests that the subglacial waters are spreading out across a large area of the glacial bed throughout the day, stimulating chemical weathering beyond the major water distribution channels.