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Glacier-dammed lake outburst events of Gornersee, Switzerland

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Gornersee, Switzerland, is an ice-marginal lake, which drains almost every year, subglacially, within a few days. We present an analysis of the lake outburst events between 1950 and 2005, as well as results of detailed field investigations related to the lake drainage in 2004 and 2005. The latter include measurements of lake geometry, water pressure in nearby boreholes and glacier surface motion. A distributed temperature-index melt model coupled to a linear-reservoir runoff model is used to calculate hourly discharge from the catchment of Gornergletscher in order to distinguish between the melt/precipitation component and the outburst component of the discharge hydrograph. In this way, drainage volume and timing are determined. From 1950 there is a clear trend for the outburst flood to occur earlier in the melt season, but there is no trend in lake discharge volumes. Peak discharges from the lake lie significantly below the values obtained using the empirical relation proposed by Clague and Mathews (1973). The shapes of the 2004 and 2005 lake outflow hydrographs differ substantially, suggesting different drainage mechanisms. From water balance considerations we infer a leakage of the glacier-dammed lake in 2005, starting 1 week prior to the lake outburst. During the drainage events, up to half of the lake water is temporarily stored in the glacial system, causing substantial uplift of the glacier surface.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2007

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  • The Journal of Glaciology is published six times per year. It accepts submissions from any discipline related to the study of snow and ice. All articles are peer reviewed. The Journal is included in the ISI Science Citation Index.
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