The hydrology of the proglacial zone of a high-Arctic glacier (Finsterwalderbreen, Svalbard): Atmospheric and surface water fluxes

Proglacial areas are expanding globally as a consequence of sustained glacier retreat, but there are very few studies focusing on their hydrology. This paper examines the surface and atmospheric water fluxes over a complete annual cycle in the proglacial area of the Svalbard glacier Finsterwalderbreen (77 N), through a combination of field measurements, physical modelling and statistical estimation. Precipitation in winter (226 mm) exceeded that in summer (29 mm), and over the course of the annual cycle total precipitation exceeded total evaporation (141 mm), although evaporative outputs from the proglacial area exceeded precipitation inputs during the dry summer. Runoff was highly irregular in time, with much of the total annual flow being concentrated into two relatively brief, early-to-mid summer intervals, the greater of which was characterised by the release of subglacially-stored water. Water fluxes were dominated by meltwater supply from the glacier: the total annual glacial runoff (7.38 × 107 m3) was an order-of-magnitude greater than the precipitation flux delivered directly to the proglacial area, and two orders-of-magnitude greater than evaporative losses from it. Outputs of meltwater from the proglacial area were not significantly different from inputs over the duration of the melt season, so surface water storage does not appear to be important in the studied catchment, despite episodes of flooding over shorter timescales. A synthesised description of the seasonal hydrological cycle in Finsterwalderbreen’s proglacial area is presented, which can be viewed as a set of hydrological boundary conditions for comparable high-latitude locations. Further study of these conditions is required, because the challenging nature of hydrometry in the high-latitudes has the potential to limit progress in understanding environmental change there.