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Elucidating changes in the degree of tracer dispersion in a subglacial channel

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Tracer injections into a subglacial channel at Unteraargletscher, Switzerland, were repeated at intervals of about 2 hours over two diurnal discharge cycles in August and September 2000. Records of dye concentration reveal a pronounced hysteresis in the velocity-dispersion relationship, thereby indicating alterations in the drainage system. Theoretical considerations for Röthlisberger channels suggest an evolution of the conduit cross-section in response to a diurnally varying discharge. We studied the relation between conduit cross-section and tracer dispersion with numerical tracer experiments. The velocity field for steady flow through a given conduit geometry is calculated using a commercial flow solver. Tracer transport is represented by a scalar volume which is advected by the velocity field. Experiments were conducted for several scenarios by varying flow velocity, conduit geometry and conduit roughness. Results show only a weak dependence of dispersion on conduit size. In contrast, changes in roughness of the conduit walls reveal a strong effect on tracer dispersion. Therefore, to explain the observed hysteresis in the velocity-dispersion relationship, we suggest that the evolution of a subglacial flow path might involve changes in roughness.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 2003

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  • The Annals of Glaciology is a peer-reviewed, thematic journal published 2 to 4 times a year by the International Glaciological Society (IGS). Publication frequency is determined and volume/issue numbers assigned by the IGS Council on a year-to-year basis and with a lead time of 3 to 4 years. The Annals of Glaciology is included in the ISI Science Citation Index from volume 50, number 50 onwards.

    Themes can be on any aspect of the study of snow and ice. Individual members can make a suggestion for a theme for an Annals issue to the Secretary General, who will forward it to the IGS Publications Committee. The IGS Publication Committee will make a recommendation for an individual themed Annals issue, together with a potential Annals Chief Editor for that issue, to IGS Council. The IGS Council will make the decision whether to proceed, taking into account the spread of topics and the overall capacity for publication of pages in Annals.

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