Channels incised into bedrock, or Nye channels, often form an important component of subglacial drainage at temperate glaciers, and their structure exerts control over patterns and rates of (a) channel erosion, (b) water flow-velocity and (c) water pressure. The latter, in turn, exerts a strong control over basal traction and, thus, ice dynamics. In order to investigate these controls, it is necessary to quantify detailed flow processes in subglacial Nye channels. However, it is effectively impossible to acquire such measurements from fully pressurized, subglacial channels. To solve this problem, we here apply a three-dimensional, finite-volume solution of the Reynolds averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) equations with a one-equation mixing-length turbulence closure to simulate flow in a 3 m long section of an active Nye channel located in the immediate foreground of Glacier de Tsanfleuron, Switzerland. Numerical model output permits high-resolution visualization of water flow through the channel reach, and enables evaluation of the experimental manipulation of the pressure field adopted across the overlying ice lid. This yields an increased theoretical understanding of the hydraulic behaviour of Nye channels, and, in the future, of their effect on glacier drainage, geomorphology and ice dynamics.
Sponsorship: Funding for this project was provided by U.K. Natural Environment Research Council grant NER/A/S/2000/01144
Publisher: International Glaciological Society