Verity Flett

PhD Thesis

Glacier to foreland hydrological coupling at a martime glacier. Virkísjökull, Iceland

Research project summary:

Image of glacierIceland’s outlet glaciers will almost completely disappear over the next 100 – 200 years under even the most benign climate predictions (IPCC ,2007). Rapid changes in glacier dynamics and associated hydrological processes are being observed globally. The impacts are widespread and varied, from changes in ice volumes and lowering of surface albedo to the recharge of groundwater resources and the alteration of water courses. Understanding how the changing glacier affects the hydrological realm is not fully understood nor well represented in many modelling studies.

This projects overall research objective is to understand how the hydrological coupling between Virkísjökull in Iceland and the pro-glacier foreland evolves during a retreat phase. This will be achieved by looking at the hydrological function and evolution of the components that control the behaviour of the downstream catchment. This includes the glacier (as it releases water from long term storage), the expanding pro-glacial lake, the outwash stream and the pro-glacial fan (an aquifer).

Will the retreat of the glacier in response to climate change lead to less direct hydrological coupling? Will the diminishing glacier reservoir becomes less dominant in the overall catchment water balance as the lake grows, increasing water residence time and direct loss into the aquifer?

The answer to these questions would imply a similar trajectory at many glaciers in Iceland and beyond. It has a range of implications regarding the way we manage glacial catchments (protection against flooding, movement of water courses) and utilise the water resources (hydropower development and using groundwater supplies).

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