Mapping a glacial path of destruction

Jun 19, 2006

The dangerous power of glacial outburst floods - or jokulhlaups - will be easier to predict thanks to new models developed by a Leeds researcher and presented at the International Glaciological Society symposium in Iceland last Friday (June 23).

These spectacular outburst floods happen as dams of ice and earth give way or, as from Vatnajokull in Iceland in 1996, when a volcano erupts beneath a glacier. That outburst flood was 10km wide, swept away a bridge and left behind icebergs 10m high.

For the first time, scientists can model the impact of these floods, the damage they could cause and the changes they will make to the landscape. Improved computer power allows them to take digital maps of an area metre by metre and picture the impact of the water as well as the materials carried by the flood.

The power of jokulhlaups means that it's not possible to take conventional measurements of flow and the sediment load. Instead Leeds researcher and School of Geography lecturer Dr Jonathan Carrivick and colleagues have used geological detective work to examine the landscape created by a flood and calculate the energy and mechanisms needed to generate these shapes.

Outburst floods can pose a major hazard in mountainous areas. Dr Carrivick said: "It's the rocks, sediment and ice which do most damage and create the most impressive landforms not just the water, and it's only now that we can model the impact of the load of these floods."

"This is really important for hazard management and also because flood size and frequencies will alter with climate change. In particular, global warming will lead to changes in how fast glaciers melt, and the mode by which meltwater is released."

Dr Carrivick is waiting for a jokulhlaup in New Zealand this summer. The Mount Ruapehu area has been set-up for measurements by local researchers and the existing landscape mapped at very high resolution. It's hoped that the before and after maps - as well as some measurements of the flood - will support his model.

Source: University of Leeds

Explore further: Mexico's Volcano of Fire blows huge ash cloud

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

From hurricanes to drought, LatAm's volatile climate

Nov 21, 2014

Sixteen years ago, Teodoro Acuna Zavala lost nearly everything when Hurricane Mitch ravaged his fields, pouring 10 days of torrential rains on Central America and killing more than 9,000 people.

Green Climate Fund pledges reach $9.3 bn

Nov 20, 2014

Nations meeting in Berlin Thursday pledged $9.3 billion (7.4 bn euros) for a climate fund to help poor countries cut emissions and prepare for global warming, just shy of a $10bn target.

New satellite movie shows US pre-winter wintry outbreak

Nov 14, 2014

(Phys.org) —Three days of satellite imagery from NOAA's GOES-East satellite were compiled into an animation that showed the progression of the storm system that dropped snow and brought gusty winds to the ...

Early warning system for dikes passes field test

Nov 14, 2014

Sensors and intelligent systems for analyzing sensor data can detect damage to dikes at an early stage, and thus protect longer dike segments as well. Technology developed by Siemens for this has now passed ...

Recommended for you

Erosion may trigger earthquakes

Nov 21, 2014

Researchers from laboratories at Géosciences Rennes (CNRS/Université de Rennes 1), Géosciences Montpellier (CNRS/Université de Montpellier 2) and Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (CNRS/IPGP/Université Paris Diderot), ...

Strong undersea earthquake hits eastern Indonesia

Nov 21, 2014

A strong undersea earthquake hit off the coast of eastern Indonesia on Friday, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or serious damage and officials said it was unlikely to trigger a tsunami.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.