Seasonal reorganization of subglacial drainage inferred from measurements in boreholes

Shulamit Gordon, Martin Sharp, Bryn Hubbard, Chris Smart, Brad Ketterling, Ian Willis

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The effect of the formation of a major subglacial drainage channel on the behaviour of the subglacial drainage system of Haut Glacier d'Arolla, Switzerland, was investigated using measurements of borehole water level and the electrical conductivity and turbidity of basal meltwaters. Electrical conductivity profiles were also measured within borehole water columns to identify the water sources driving water level changes, and to determine patterns of water circulation in boreholes. Prior to channel formation, boreholes showed idiosyncratic and poorly coordinated behaviour. Diurnal water level fluctuations were small and driven by supraglacial/englacial water inputs, even when boreholes were connected to a subglacial drainage system. This system appeared to consist of hydraulically impermeable patches interspersed with storage spaces, and transmitted a very low water flux. Drainage reorganization, which occurred around 31 July, 1993, in response to rapidly rising meltwater and rainfall inputs, seems to have involved the creation of a connection between an incipient channel and a well-established channelized system located further down-glacier. Once a major channel existed within the area of the borehole array, borehole water level fluctuations were forced by discharge-related changes in channel water pressure, although a diversity of responses was observed. These included (i) synchronous, (ii) damped and lagged, (iii) inverse, and (iv) alternating inverse/lagged responses. Synchronous responses occurred in boreholes connected directly to the channel, while damped and lagged responses occurred in boreholes connected to it by a more resistive drainage system. Pressure variations within the channel resulted in diurnal transfer of mechanical support for the ice overburden between connected and unconnected areas of the bed, producing inverse and alternating patterns of water level response.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-133
Number of pages29
JournalHydrological Processes
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 1998


  • glacier hydrology
  • subglacial drainage
  • boreholes
  • water quality
  • Boreholes
  • Subglacial drainage
  • Water quality
  • Glacier hydrology


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