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Breaching of an ice dam at Qorlortossup tasia, south Greenland

  • Christoph Mayer (a1) (a2) and Thomas V. Schuler (a3)

Abstract

In July 2003 an ice-dammed lake was suddenly drained in an outburst flood at Qorlortorssup tasia in south Greenland, the site of a projected hydropower station. The lake developed during the first decades of the 20th century as a result of the recession of the ice cap in this area. It used to drain over a shallow rock spillway towards Sermeq kangigdleq, the adjacent outlet glacier to the north. In order to assess the hazard potential and the additional water contribution from the enlarged catchment, the glacial lake and its surroundings were investigated. Based on the analysis of available historical data, field investigations and model results, the history of lake generation and the sudden outbreak were reconstructed. With the lake formation the ice dam lost its connection to the ice cap. The flood was initiated after the ice surface became low enough for the lake water to overflow the glacier towards Qorlortorssup tasia basin, creating a gully through the glacier which drained approximately 55 × 106 m3 of water over a period of 8-10 days. Thanks to the stability of the dam and the downstream damping of the flood, there was no serious threat to a farm that is situated close to the planned power-station site. In the future, we expect much smaller floods, as a result of partial closure of the gully by ice movement or snowdrift in the winter. The new drainage pattern into Qorlortorssup tasia basin, however, will be a permanent situation. The amount of this new water contribution can only be roughly estimated since the exact size of the drainage basin is not well known.

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References

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