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Sedimentological and Geomorphological Impacts of The Jökulhlaup (Glacial Outburst Flood) In January 2002 At Kverkfjöll, Northern Iceland

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Jökulhlaups (glacial outburst floods) are common hazards in many glaciated environments. However, research on the controls on the sedimentological and geomorphological impact of jökulhlaups is rare. Developing a more comprehensive understanding of flood impacts may be useful for hazard identification, prediction and mitigation.

This study determines the controls on the sedimentological and geomorphological impact of a jökulhlaup in January 2002 at Kverkfjöll, northern Iceland. This jökulhlaup, caused by geothermal activity, reached a peak discharge of 490 m3s−1 as recorded at a permanent gauging station 40 km downstream from the glacier snout. However, reconstructed peak discharges in the proximal part of the jökulhlaup channel near the glacier snout indicate a peak discharge of 2590 m3s−1. The jökulhlaup hydrograph was characterized by a rapid rising stage and a more gradual falling stage. As a result, sedimentary and geomorphological impacts included poorly sorted, structureless, matrix-supported deposits; massive sand units; clast-supported units; ice-proximal cobbles, rip-up clasts and kettle-holes; and steep-sided kettle-holes. These features are proposed to be characteristic of rapid rising stage deposition. Additionally, large-scale gravel bars and bedload sheets prograded and migrated during the rapid rising stage. The development of these bedforms was facilitated by high bedload transport rates, due to high discharge acceleration rates during the rapid rising stage. During the more prolonged falling stage, there was sufficient time for sediment incision and erosion to occur, exhuming cobbles, ice blocks and rip-up clasts, and creating well-defined terrace surfaces.

This study provides a clearer understanding of hydrological and sedimentological processes and mechanisms operating during jökulhlaups, and helps to identify flood hazards more accurately, which is fundamental for hazard management and minimizing risk.
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Keywords: Iceland; flood impacts; glacial outburst flood; jökulhlaup; natural hazards

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Publication date: 2006-03-01

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