09 Sep 2022
09 Sep 2022
Status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Contribution of Rock Glacier Discharge to Late-Summer and Fall Streamflow in the Uinta Mountains, Utah, USA

Jeffrey S. Munroe1 and Alexander L. Handwerger2,3 Jeffrey S. Munroe and Alexander L. Handwerger
  • 1Geology Department, Middlebury College, Middlebury, 05753, USA
  • 2Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, 90095, USA
  • 3Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, 91109, USA

Abstract. Water draining from rock glaciers in the Uinta Mountains of Utah (USA) was analyzed and compared with samples of ground water and water from the master stream in a representative 5000-ha drainage. Rock glacier water resembles snowmelt in the early summer, but transitions to higher values of d-excess and greatly elevated Ca and Mg content as the melt season progresses. This pattern is consistent with models describing a transition from snowmelt, to melting of seasonal ice, to melting of perennial ice in the rock glacier interior in late summer and fall. Water derived from this internal ice appears to have been the source of ~25 % of the streamflow in this study area during September of 2021. This result emphasizes the significant role that rock glaciers can play in the hydrology of high-elevation watersheds, particularly in summers following a winter with below average snowpack.

Jeffrey S. Munroe and Alexander L. Handwerger

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Jeffrey S. Munroe and Alexander L. Handwerger

Jeffrey S. Munroe and Alexander L. Handwerger


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Short summary
Rock glaciers are mixtures of ice and rock debris that are common landforms in high-mountain environments. We evaluated the role of rock glaciers as a component of mountain hydrology by collecting water samples during the summer and fall of 2021. Our results indicate that the water draining from rock glaciers late in the melt season is likely derived from old buried ice, and further demonstrate that this water collectively makes up about a quarter of streamflow during the month of September.