Articles | Volume 17, issue 8
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 3261–3277, 2013
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 3261–3277, 2013

Research article 20 Aug 2013

Research article | 20 Aug 2013

Identification of glacial meltwater runoff in a karstic environment and its implication for present and future water availability

D. Finger1,2,*, A. Hugentobler1,2, M. Huss3, A. Voinesco3,4, H. Wernli1,2, D. Fischer1,2, E. Weber5, P.-Y. Jeannin5, M. Kauzlaric1,2, A. Wirz1,2, T. Vennemann6, F. Hüsler1,2, B. Schädler1,2, and R. Weingartner1,2 D. Finger et al.
  • 1Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 2Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
  • 3Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland
  • 4Institute of Geography, University of Neuchatel, Neuchatel, Switzerland
  • 5Swiss Institute of Speleology and Karst-Research, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
  • 6Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
  • *now at: Institute of Geography, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Abstract. Glaciers all over the world are expected to continue to retreat due to the global warming throughout the 21st century. Consequently, future seasonal water availability might become scarce once glacier areas have declined below a certain threshold affecting future water management strategies. Particular attention should be paid to glaciers located in a karstic environment, as parts of the meltwater can be drained by underlying karst systems, making it difficult to assess water availability. In this study tracer experiments, karst modeling and glacier melt modeling are combined in order to identify flow paths in a high alpine, glacierized, karstic environment (Glacier de la Plaine Morte, Switzerland) and to investigate current and predict future downstream water availability. Flow paths through the karst underground were determined with natural and fluorescent tracers. Subsequently, geologic information and the findings from tracer experiments were assembled in a karst model. Finally, glacier melt projections driven with a climate scenario were performed to discuss future water availability in the area surrounding the glacier. The results suggest that during late summer glacier meltwater is rapidly drained through well-developed channels at the glacier bottom to the north of the glacier, while during low flow season meltwater enters into the karst and is drained to the south. Climate change projections with the glacier melt model reveal that by the end of the century glacier melt will be significantly reduced in the summer, jeopardizing water availability in glacier-fed karst springs.