11 Jun 2021

11 Jun 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Long-period variability in ice-dammed glacier outburst floods due to evolving catchment geometry

Amy J. Jenson1,2, Jason M. Amundson2, Jonathan Kingslake3, and Eran Hood2 Amy J. Jenson et al.
  • 1Department of Mathematical Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana 59717, USA
  • 2Department of Natural Sciences, University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau, Alaska 99801, USA
  • 3Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, New York 10964, USA

Abstract. We combine a glacier outburst flood model with a glacier flow model to investigate decadal to centennial variations in outburst floods originating from ice-dammed marginal basins. Marginal basins form due to retreat and detachment of tributary glaciers, a process that often results in remnant ice being left behind. The remnant ice, which can act like an ice shelf or break apart into a pack of icebergs, limits the basin storage capacity but also exerts pressure on the underlying water and promotes drainage. We find that during glacier retreat there is a strong, nearly linear relationship between flood water volume and peak discharge for individual basins, despite large changes in glacier and remnant ice volumes that are expected to impact flood hydrographs. Consequently, peak discharge increases over time as long as there is remnant ice remaining in a basin, the peak discharge begins to decrease once a basin becomes ice free, and similar size outburst floods can occur for very different glacier volumes. We also find that the temporal variability in outburst flood magnitude depends on how the floods initiate. Basins that connect to the subglacial hydrological system only after reaching flotation yield greater long-term variability in outburst floods than basins that are continuously connected to the subglacial hydrological system (and therefore release floods that initiate before reaching flotation). Our results highlight the importance of improving our understanding of both changes in basin geometry and outburst flood initiation mechanisms in order to better assess outburst flood hazards and impacts on landscape and ecosystem evolution.

Amy J. Jenson et al.

Status: open (until 06 Aug 2021)

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Amy J. Jenson et al.

Model code and software

Glacier-Basin-Outburst-Flood-Model Amy Jenson, Jason Amudson, Jonathan Kingslake, Evan Carnahan, Ellyn M. Enderlin

Amy J. Jenson et al.


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Short summary
Outburst floods are sudden releases of water from glacial environments. As glaciers retreat, changes in glacier and basin geometry impact outburst flood characteristics. We combine a glacier flow model describing glacier retreat with an outburst flood model to explore how ice dam height, glacier length, and remnant ice in a basin influence outburst floods. We find storage capacity is the greatest indicator of flood magnitude and the flood onset mechanism is a significant indicator of duration.