Comparison of a three-dimensional model for glacier flow with field data from Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Switzerland

Alun Hubbard, Heinz Blatter, Peter Nienow, Douglas Mair, Bryn Hubbard

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101 Citations (Scopus)


A three-dimensional, finite-difference model based on a first-order solution of the ice-flow equations is applied to Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Switzerland. The numerical model successfully converges at horizontal resolutions down to 70 m, so a number of detailed comparisons with field data can be made. Modelled surface velocities with no basal sliding component are compared with surface velocities observed on the glacier over four different time periods. The best fit is achieved with over-winter surface velocities (R2 = 0.75) using a rate factor, A, in Glen's flow law of 0.063 a-1 bar-3. Surface zones of maximum computed effective stress display a high level of coincidence with observed crevassing, the orientation of which is successfully predicted by the direction of the tensile component of the computed principal surface stress. Comparison of the relative magnitude and direction of computed principal stresses with principal strains measured at the ice surface also correspond closely. In an attempt to simulate the observed annual velocity distribution within a cross-section of the glacier tongue, we incorporate two basal-motion patterns into the model. By treating net annual ice motion as a time-weighted composite of three separate flow situations: normal sliding, enhanced sliding and no sliding, we are able to reproduce the key features of the observed cross-sectional ice and basal slip velocity distributions. These experiments indicate there may be substantial decoupling taking place along an elongated narrow zone at the bed of Haut Glacier d'Arolla and that this decoupling interacts in a complex manner with the englacial stress and strain field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)368-378
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Issue number147
Publication statusPublished - 1998


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