The impact of supraglacial debris on proglacial runoff and water chemistry

Catriona Fyffe, Benjamin Brock, Martin Kirkbride, Andrew Black, Claudio Smiraglia, Guglielmina Diolaiuti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


Debris is known to influence the ablation, topography and hydrological systems of glaciers. This paper determines for the first time how these influences impact on bulk water routing and the proglacial runoff signal, using analyses of supraglacial and proglacial water chemistry and proglacial discharge at Miage Glacier, Italian Alps. Debris does influence the supraglacial water chemistry, but the inefficient subglacial system beneath the debris-covered zone also plays a role in increasing the ion contribution to the proglacial stream. Daily hydrographs had a lower amplitude and later discharge peak compared to clean glaciers and fewer diurnal hydrographs were found compared to similar analysis for Haut Glacier d’Arolla. We attribute these observations to the attenuating effect of the debris on ablation, smaller input streams on the debris-covered area, a less efficient subglacial system, and possible leakage into a raised sediment bed beneath the glacier. Strongly diurnal hydrographs are constrained to periods with warmer than average conditions. ‘Average’ weather conditions result in a hydrograph with reverse asymmetry. Conductivity and discharge commonly show anti-clockwise hysteresis, suggesting the more dilute, rapidly-routed melt component from the mid-glacier peaks before the discharge peak, with components from higher up-glacier and the debris-covered areas arriving later at the proglacial stream. The results of this study could lead to a greater understanding of the hydrological structure of other debris-covered glaciers, with findings highlighting the need to include the influence of the debris cover within future models of debris-covered glacier runoff.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-57
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Early online date10 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


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