Articles | Volume 4, issue 3
Research article
23 Sep 2010
Research article |  | 23 Sep 2010

Short term variations of tracer transit speed on alpine glaciers

M. A. Werder, T. V. Schuler, and M. Funk

Abstract. We first present the results of a series of tracer experiments conducted on an alpine glacier (Gornergletscher, Switzerland) over a diurnal discharge cycle. For these injections, a moulin was used into which an ice marginal lake was draining, providing a relatively constant discharge. The measured tracer transit speeds show two diurnal maxima and minima. These findings are qualitatively different to existing observations from two series of injections conducted at Unteraargletscher (Switzerland) using a moulin fed by supraglacial meltwater having a high diurnal variability, which displayed one diurnal maximum and minimum.

We then develop and use a simple two-component model of the glacier drainage system, comprising a moulin and a channel element, to simulate the measured transit speeds for all three injection series. The model successfully reproduces all the observations and shows that the same underlying processes can produce the qualitatively different behaviour depending on the different moulin input discharge regimes. Using the model, we assess the relative importance of the different measurement quantities, show that frequent measurements of moulin input discharge are indispensable and propose an experiment design to monitor the development of the drainage system over several weeks.