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: Indonesia volcano erupts, injuring 4; 1 missing

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Nuclear should be in the energy mix for biodiversity

16 hours ago

Leading conservation scientists from around the world have called for a substantial role for nuclear power in future energy-generating scenarios in order to mitigate climate change and protect biodiversity.

How huge numbers of people can organise online for data analysis

15 hours ago

Some achieve celebrity, and some have celebrity thrust upon them, to paraphrase Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. This may be how Alex Geutsitskiy and Katie Verkovod feel, a couple from Oregon who were captured on camera by photographer Paul Wolfe at exactly the moment Geutsitskiy proposed on a peak in the Columbia River Go ...

Recommended for you

Scientists make strides in tsunami warning since 2004

14 hours ago

The 2004 tsunami led to greater global cooperation and improved techniques for detecting waves that could reach faraway shores, even though scientists still cannot predict when an earthquake will strike.

Trade winds ventilate the tropical oceans

14 hours ago

Long-term observations indicate that the oxygen minimum zones in the tropical oceans have expanded in recent decades. The reason is still unknown. Now scientists at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research ...

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.