The hydrology of debris-covered glaciers

  • Catriona Louise Fyffe

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Studies of glacier-hydrology have focused on clean Alpine glaciers, and recently ice sheet outlet glaciers, but there are few studies on debris-covered glaciers. It is known debris affects ablation rates, and that debris-covered glaciers evolve differently to their debris-free counterparts, but how the debris influences the hydrology is poorly understood. This thesis aims to understand the influence of the debris on the hydrological system and water balance of Miage Glacier, Western Italian Alps. The supraglacial hydrology was studied by modelling ablation using a distributed energy balance melt model, and measuring supraglacial stream discharges; the structure and evolution of the englacial and subglacial network was investigated using dye tracing and water chemistry monitoring; and the proglacial runoff was examined through detailed hydrograph analysis. Glacier velocity measurements were used to investigate the debris’ influence on the glacier dynamics. High ablation rates occurred on clean ice and beneath thin debris on the upper glacier, resulting in large supraglacial streams which led into an efficient drainage system. Glacier velocities had a greater magnitude and variability close to the upper glacier moulins. Thick debris on the lower glacier reduced ablation, and consequently the discharge of supraglacial streams and efficiency of the hydrological network. Despite locally inefficient subglacial drainage, glacier velocities on the lower glacier remained subdued, partly because the debris attenuated water inputs. This attenuation reduced the occurrence of high amplitude diurnal cycles in the proglacial runoff and confined them to particularly warm weather. Lag times from peak air temperature to peak runoff were long relative to comparable debris-free glaciers. Evaporation of rainfall from debris-surfaces was high, and dependant on the debris permeability, suggesting this is an important water balance component. Under climate warming, it is predicted the ablation of Miage Glacier will increase, but this may be negated given an increase in debris cover.
    Date of Award2012
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBenjamin Brock (Supervisor) & Martin Kirkbride (Supervisor)


    • Glacier-hydrology
    • Debris-covered glacier
    • Dye tracing
    • Miage Glacier
    • Glacier velocity

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