New paper: Dye tracing for investigating flow and transport properties of hydrocarbon-polluted Rabots glaciär, Kebnekaise, Sweden

Our new paper about the application of dye tracing to investigate the flow of pollutants on Rabots glaciär has just been published online in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions, and you can find a link to it here.




Over 11 000 L of hydrocarbon pollution was deposited on the surface of Rabots glaciär on the Kebnekaise Massif, northern Sweden, following the crash of a Royal Norwegian Air Force aircraft in March 2012. An environmental monitoring programme was subsequently commissioned, including water, snow and ice sampling. The scientific programme further included a series of dye tracing experiments during the 2013 melt season, conducted to investigate flow pathways for pollutants through the glacier hydrological system, and to gain new insight to the internal hydrological system of Rabots glaciär. Results of dye tracing reveal a degree of homogeneity in the topology of the drainage system throughout July and August, with an increase in efficiency as the season progresses, as reflected by decreasing temporary storage and dispersivity. Early onset of melting likely led to formation of an efficient, discrete drainage system early in the melt season, subject to decreasing sinuosity and braiding as the season progressed. Analysis of turbidity-discharge hysteresis further supports the formation of discrete, efficient drainage, with clockwise diurnal hysteresis suggesting easy mobilisation of readily-available sediments in channels. Dye injection immediately downstream of the pollution source zone revealed prolonged storage of dye followed by fast, efficient release. Twinned with a low dye recovery, and supported by sporadic detection of hydrocarbons in the proglacial river, we suggest that meltwater, and thus pollutants in solution, may be released periodically from this zone of the glacier hydrological system. The here identified dynamics of dye storage, dispersion and breakthrough indicate that the ultimate fate and permanence of pollutants in the glacier system is likely to be governed by storage of pollutants in the firn layer and ice mass, or within the internal hydrological system, where it may refreeze. This shows that future studies on the fate of hydrocarbons in pristine, glaciated mountain environments should address the extent to which pollutants in solution act like water molecules or whether they are more susceptible to, for example, refreezing into the surrounding ice, becoming stuck in micro-fractures and pore spaces, or sorption onto subglacial sediments.



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