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Integrated electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) and self-potential (SP) techniques for assessing hydrological processes within glacial lake moraine dams

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Moraine dams can be inherently unstable, but effective assessment strategies remain poorly identified. We integrate electrical resistivity tomography (ERT) with electrical self-potential (SP) and lake-level measurements to investigate the structure of, and hydrological processes within, a moraine-dam complex adjacent to Miage glacier, Italy. This complex separates two meltwater lakes characterized by an efficient subterranean hydraulic connection. Our ERT data reveal a continuous free surface within the complex, whose morphology reflects the topography of the moraine complex akin to unconfined groundwater aquifers. SP data were corrected for spatial changes in the thickness of the upper unsaturated layer using principles of electrography. The residual streaming-potential map is consistent with Darcian flow of lake waters through the moraine complex, characterized by a negative-to-positive potential change from <–30 mV to >+70 mV. These electrical signatures are consistent with those generated by water seepage through earth dams in various non-glacial settings. Integrated electrical geophysical methods thus provided an inexpensive and unobtrusive evaluation of the hydrological properties of and processes within the moraine complex. Since spatio-temporal patterns of subsurface water flow critically affect the strengths of moraine sediments, such methods promise to be powerful in assessing the long-term stability of moraine-dammed glacial lakes.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2012

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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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