Jordan S. Harrington
Permafrost distribution in mountains is typically more heterogeneous relative to low‐relief environments due to greater variability in the factors controlling the ground thermal regime, such as topography, snow depth, and sediment grain size (e.g., coarse blocks). Measuring and understanding the geothermal variability in high mountains remains challenging due to logistical constraints. This study presents one of the first applications of distributed temperature sensing (DTS) in periglacial environments to measure ground surface temperatures in a mountain permafrost area at much higher spatial resolution than possible with conventional methods using discrete temperature sensors. DTS measures temperature along a fibre‐optic cable at high spatial resolution (i.e., ≤ 1 m). Its use can be limited by power supply and calibration requirements, although recent methodological developments have relaxed some of these restrictions. Spatially continuous DTS measurements at a studied rock glacier provided greater resolution of geothermal variability and facilitated the interpretation of bottom temperature of snowpack data to map patchy permafrost distribution. This research highlights the potential for DTS to be a useful tool for permafrost mapping, ground thermal regime interpretation, conceptual geothermal model development, and numerical model evaluation in areas of heterogeneous mountain permafrost.
Groundwater flow through coarse blocky landforms contributes to streamflow in mountain watersheds, yet its role in the alpine hydrologic cycle has received relatively little attention. This study examines the internal structure and hydrogeological characteristics of an inactive rock glacier in the Canadian Rockies using geophysical imaging techniques, analysis of the discharge hydrograph of the spring draining the rock glacier, and chemical and stable isotopic compositions of source waters. The results show that the coarse blocky sediments forming the rock glacier allow the rapid infiltration of snowmelt and rain water to an unconfined aquifer above the bedrock surface. The water flowing through the aquifer is eventually routed via an internal channel parallel to the front of the rock glacier to a spring, which provides baseflow to a headwater stream designated as a critical habitat for an at‐risk cold‐water fish species. Discharge from the rock glacier spring contributes up to 50% of basin streamflow during summer baseflow periods and up to 100% of basin streamflow over winter, despite draining less than 20% of the watershed area. The rock glacier contains patches of ground ice even though it may have been inactive for thousands of years, suggesting the resiliency of the ground thermal regime under a warming climate.
Influence of a rock glacier spring on the stream energy budget and cold-water refuge in an alpine stream
Jordan S. Harrington, Masaki Hayashi, Barret L. Kurylyk
Hydrological Processes, Volume 31, Issue 26
The thermal regimes of alpine streams remain understudied and have important implications for cold-water fish habitat which is expected to decline due to climatic warming. Previous research has focused on the effects of distributed energy fluxes and meltwater from snowpacks and glaciers on the temperature of mountain streams. This study presents the effects of the groundwater spring discharge from an inactive rock glacier containing little ground ice on the temperature of an alpine stream. Rock glaciers are coarse blocky landforms that are ubiquitous in alpine environments and typically exhibit low groundwater discharge temperatures and resilience to climatic warming. Water temperature data indicate that the rock glacier spring cools the stream by an average of 3°C during July and August and reduces maximum daily temperatures by an average of 5°C during the peak temperature period of the first two weeks in August, producing a cold-water refuge downstream of the spring. The distributed stream surface and streambed energy fluxes are calculated for the reach along the toe of the rock glacier, and solar radiation dominates the distributed stream energy budget. The lateral advective heat flux generated by the rock glacier spring is compared to the distributed energy fluxes over the study reach, and the spring advective heat flux is the dominant control on stream temperature at the reach scale. This study highlights the potential for coarse blocky landforms to generate climatically-resilient cold-water refuges in alpine streams.