Articles | Volume 8, issue 2
Research article
27 Mar 2014
Research article |  | 27 Mar 2014

Near-surface permeability in a supraglacial drainage basin on the Llewellyn Glacier, Juneau Icefield, British Columbia

L. Karlstrom, A. Zok, and M. Manga

Abstract. Supraglacial channel networks link time varying melt production and meltwater routing on temperate glaciers. Such channel networks often include components of both surface transport in streams and subsurface porous flow through near-surface ice, firn or snowpack. Although subsurface transport if present will likely control network transport efficacy, it is the most poorly characterized component of the system. We present measurements of supraglacial channel spacing and network properties on the Juneau Icefield, subsurface water table height, and time variation of hydraulic characteristics including diurnal variability in water temperature. We combine these data with modeling of porous flow in weathered ice to infer near-surface permeability. Estimates are based on an observed phase lag between diurnal water temperature variations and discharge, and independently on measurement of water table surface elevation away from a stream. Both methods predict ice permeability on a 1–10 m scale in the range of 10−10–10−11 m2. These estimates are considerably smaller than common parameterizations of surface water flow on bare ice in the literature, as well as smaller than most estimates of snowpack permeability. For supraglacial environments in which porosity/permeability creation in the subsurface is balanced by porous flow of meltwater, our methods provide an estimate of microscale hydraulic properties from observations of supraglacial channel spacing.