Laboratory pH analyses of glacial melt waters are unrepresentative of in situ values, due primarily to CO2 gas exchange between the sample and the atmosphere, and solute enrichment from chemical reaction with sediment and colloidal particles. A method is presented which enables field pH measurements that are reproducible within ±0.04 pH units to be made in glacial melt waters, using commonly available digital pH meters with combination electrodes.
During initial spring snow melt in May 1981 at Gornergletscher, Switzerland, melt waters in the proglacial stream leaving the glacier terminus were oversaturated with respect to atmospheric p(CO2), and rapidly increased pH during CO2 outgassing at in situ temperature and pressure. Summer ice melt from glaciers which are temperate in the ablation zone are usually undersaturated by about ten times with respect to atmospheric p(CO2), and rapidly lower their pH values to achieve equilibrium upon encountering the atmosphere, as observed at Gornergletscher during July and August 1981. Gornergletscher summer proglacial stream waters, sometimes show pH increases from rock weathering, with the rate limited by the transfer rate of CO2 across the air-water interface to drive the weathering reactions. Throughout the year, any water parcel at equilibrium with atmospheric CO2 is generally at an equilibrium pH value, if filtration prohibits solute enrichment. For these reasons, laboratory pH measurements are unacceptable for quantitative studies of melt-water chemistry and should be discontinued.