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Hydrogeological analysis of slug tests in glacier boreholes

  • Bernd Kulessa (a1), Bryn Hubbard (a2), Mike Williamson (a3) and Giles H. Brown (a2)


Slug testing allows estimation of subglacial hydraulic properties by evaluating the response of a coupled borehole–subglacial flow system to an artificial displacement of its steady-state hydraulic head. However, existing models developed specifically for application to slug-test data collected in glacier boreholes are challenging to apply in practice. Here, we demonstrate that conventional linear methods, which are relatively readily applicable and widely used in groundwater studies, can also be used to estimate subglacial hydraulic properties. Overdamped, underdamped and critically damped slug-test data were recorded in fluctuating boreholes drilled to the bed of Haut Glacier d’Arolla, Valais, Switzerland. We find that non-linear effects in the data are negligible, supporting the application of conventional hydrogeological methods. Results suggest that the hydraulic conductivity of the unconsolidated sediments within the area influenced by a major subglacial drainage channel is enhanced (several 10–2 m s–1; typical of gravelly sand) compared to areas outside the zone of influence (~0.1 × 10–2ms–1; typical of silty sand). A distance to a flow boundary within the subglacial aquifer, inferred on the basis of slug-test analysis, was found to coincide with the actual location of the subglacial channel. Sensitivity analyses reveal that uncertainties in borehole and filter radii, as well as the storage coefficient of the subglacial aquifer, are more likely to affect the accuracy of the hydraulic and distance estimates than uncertainties regarding the repeatability of the slug-test responses and curve-fitting procedures involved in the conventional hydrogeological methods.

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