Breaking the seal at Grímsvötn, Iceland
Journal of Glaciology
Of several problems associated with theoretical explanations of the jökulhlaups which emerge from the outlet glacier Skeiðarárjökull of the ice cap Vatnajökull in southeast Iceland, the mechanism of flood initiation is one that has hitherto defied explanation. We provide such an explanation based on a careful analysis of the classical Nye-Röthlisberger model; near the subglacial lake Grímsvötn, the hydraulic potential gradient is towards the lake, and there is therefore a catchment boundary
... chment boundary under the ice, whose location depends on the subglacial meltwater drainage characteristics. As the conditions for a flood approach, we show that the water divide migrates towards the lake, while at the same time the lake pressure increases. When the hydraulic potential gradient towards the lake is low and the refilling rate is slow, the seal will "break" when the catchment boundary reaches the lake, while the lake level is still below flotation pressure, whereas if refilling is rapid, flotation can be achieved before a flood is initiated. This theory can thus explain why the seal is normally broken when the lake level at Grímsvötn is still some 60 m below flotation level. In addition, we are able to explain why the jökulhlaup following the 1996 eruption did not occur until flotation level was achieved, and we show how the cyclicity and magnitude of jökulhlaups can be explained within this theory.