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Waterfall ice: formation, structure and evolution

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For the first time, to our knowledge, a scientific study of the formation and evolution of waterfall ice, the ephemeral ice structures that form from the freezing of liquid water seeping on steep rock, was performed. We surveyed and analysed three waterfall ice structures near Glacier d'Argentière, Mont Blanc massif, France, between winter 2007 and spring 2009. We reconstruct the global evolution of two vertical ice structures using automatic digital cameras, while the internal ice microstructure was analysed using ice coring and sampling. Macro- and microstructural observations are considered, along with temperature conditions recorded at a nearby meteorological station and directly within the ice structure. They reveal that vertical structures initially grow rapidly from the aggregation of stalactites with microstructures indicative of temperature conditions during their crystallization. After this initial stage, the volume of the ice structure reaches an asymptotic value, as water continues to flow inside the structure, isolated from the outside cold ice; the outer surface remains dry. At the end of the season, the collapse of the free-standing structure does not occur by progressive melting, but is initiated by a horizontal crack propagation at the top. The initiation of this crack seems to be triggered by a drastic temperature decrease.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2010-06-01

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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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