22 May 2024
 | 22 May 2024
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Long-term development of a perennial firn aquifer on the Lomonosovfonna ice cap, Svalbard

Tim van den Akker, Ward van Pelt, Rickard Petterson, and Veijo A. Pohjola

Abstract. An uncertain factor in assessing future sea level rise is the melt water runoff buffering capacity of snow and firn on glaciers and ice caps. Field studies have resulted in observations of perennial firn aquifers (PFAs), which are bodies of water present deep in the firn layer and sheltered from cold surface conditions. PFAs can store surface melt, thereby acting as a buffer for sea level rise, and influence the thermodynamics of the firn layer. Furthermore, ice dynamics might be affected by the presence of liquid water through hydrofracturing and water transport to the bed. In this study, we present results of applying an existing groundwater model MODLFOW 6 to an observed perennial firn aquifer on the Lomonosovfonna ice cap in central Svalbard. The observations span a three-year period, where a ground penetrating radar was used to measure the water table depth of the aquifer. We calibrate our model against observations to infer hydraulic conductivity 6.4 * 10-4 m s-1, and then use the model to project the aquifer evolution over the period 1957–2019. We find that the aquifer was present in 1957, and that it steadily grew over the modelled period with relative increases of about 11 % in total water content and 15 % in water table depth. Water table depth is found to be more sensitive to transient meltwater input than firn density changes at this location on the long term. On an annual basis, the aquifer exhibits sharp water table increases during the melt season, followed by slow seepage through the cold season.

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Tim van den Akker, Ward van Pelt, Rickard Petterson, and Veijo A. Pohjola

Status: open (until 11 Jul 2024)

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Tim van den Akker, Ward van Pelt, Rickard Petterson, and Veijo A. Pohjola
Tim van den Akker, Ward van Pelt, Rickard Petterson, and Veijo A. Pohjola


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Short summary
Liquid water can persist within old snow on glaciers and ice caps, if it can percolate into it before it refreezes. Snow is a good insulator, and snow is porous where the percolated water can be stored. If this happens, the water piles up and forms a groundwater-like system. Here, we show observations of such a groundwater-like system found in Svalbard. We demonstrate that it behaves like a groundwater system, and use that to model the development of the water table from 1957 until present day.