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Hydrology and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-120
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-2019-120
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 24 Apr 2019

Research article | 24 Apr 2019

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This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences (HESS).

Groundwater / meltwater interaction in proglacial aquifers

Brighid É Ó Dochartaigh1, Alan M. MacDonald1, Andrew R. Black2, Jez Everest1, Paul Wilson3, W. George Darling4, Lee Jones5, and Mike Raines5 Brighid É Ó Dochartaigh et al.
  • 1British Geological Survey, Lyell Centre, Research Avenue South, Edinburgh EH14 4AP, United Kingdom
  • 2University of Dundee, School of Social Sciences, Dundee DD1 4HN, United Kingdom
  • 3Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, Dundonald House, Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast BT4 3SB, United Kingdom
  • 4British Geological Survey, Maclean Building, Wallingford OX10 8BB, United Kingdom
  • 5British Geological Survey, Environmental Science Centre, Keyworth NG12 5GG, United Kingdom

Abstract. Groundwater plays a significant role in glacial hydrology and can buffer changes to the timing and magnitude of meltwater flows. However, proglacial aquifer characteristics or groundwater dynamics in glacial catchments are rarely studied directly. We provide direct evidence of proglacial groundwater storage, and quantify multi-year groundwater-meltwater dynamics, through intensive and high resolution monitoring of the proglacial system of a rapidly retreating glacier, Virkisjökull, in SE Iceland. Proglacial unconsolidated glaciofluvial sediments comprise a highly permeable aquifer in which groundwater flow in the shallowest 20–40 m of the aquifer is equivalent to 4.5 % (2.6–5.8 %) of mean annual meltwater river flow, and 9.7 % (5.8–12.3 %) of winter flow. Groundwater flow through the entire aquifer thickness represents 9.8 % (3.6–21 %) of annual meltwater flow. Groundwater in the aquifer is actively recharged by local precipitation, both rainfall and snowmelt, and strongly influenced by individual precipitation events. Significant glacial meltwater influence on groundwater within the aquifer occurs in a 50–500 m river zone within which there are complex groundwater / meltwater exchanges. Stable isotopes, groundwater dynamics and temperature data demonstrate active recharge from river losses, especially in the summer melt season, with more than 25 % of groundwater in this part of the aquifer sourced from meltwater. Such proglacial aquifers are common globally, and future changes in glacier coverage and precipitation are likely to increase the significance of groundwater storage within them. The scale of proglacial groundwater flow and storage has important implications for measuring meltwater flux, for predicting future river flows, and for providing strategic water supplies in de-glaciating catchments.

Brighid É Ó Dochartaigh et al.
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Short summary
We provide evidence of high groundwater storage and flow in catchments with active glaciers. Groundwater is found within gravels at the front of glaciers and replenished by both ice-melt and precipitation. We studied a glacier in Iceland for 3 years, characterising the aquifer properties and measuring groundwater, river flow and precipitation. The results are important for accurately measuring meltwater and show that groundwater can provide strategic water supplies in de-glaciating catchments.
We provide evidence of high groundwater storage and flow in catchments with active glaciers....
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