Hydrologic and geomorphic changes resulting from episodic glacial lake outburst floods: Rio Colonia, Patagonia, Chile

Abstract

Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) are a prominent but poorly understood cryospheric hazard in a warming climate. We quantify the hydrologic and geomorphic response to 21 episodic GLOFs that began in April 2008 using multitemporal satellite imagery and field observations. Peak discharge exiting the source lake became progressively muted downstream. At ~40–60 km downstream, where the floods entered and traveled down the main stem Rio Baker, peak discharges were generally < 2000 m3 s1, although these flows were still >1–2 times the peak annual discharge of this system, Chile’s largest river by volume. As such, caution must be applied to empirical relationships relating lake volume to peak discharge, as the latter is dependent on where this observation is made along the flood path. The GLOFs and subsequent periods of free drainage resulted in > 40 m of incision, the net removal of ~25 × 106 m3 of sediment from the source lake basin, and a nonsteady channel configuration downstream. These results demonstrate that GLOFs sourced from low-order tributaries can produce significant floods on major main stem rivers, in addition to significantly altering sediment dynamics.

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