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Journal Article

Mapping the age of ice of Gauligletscher combining surface radionuclide contamination and ice flow modeling


Sidler,  D.
NBC Defence Laboratory 1, Swiss Armed Forces;
Theory Group, Theory Department, Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter, Max Planck Society;

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Jouvet, G., Röllin, S., Sahli, H., Corcho, J., Gnägi, L., Compagno, L., et al. (2020). Mapping the age of ice of Gauligletscher combining surface radionuclide contamination and ice flow modeling. The Cryosphere, 14(11), 4233-4251. doi:10.5194/tc-14-4233-2020.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-9F53-9
In the 1950s and 1960s, specific radionuclides were released into the atmosphere as a result of nuclear weapons testing. This radioactive fallout left its signature on the accumulated layers of glaciers worldwide, thus providing a tracer for ice particles traveling within the gravitational ice flow and being released into the ablation zone. For surface ice dating purposes, we analyze here the activity of 239Pu, 240Pu and 236U radionuclides derived from more than 200 ice samples collected along five flowlines at the surface of Gauligletscher, Switzerland. It was found that contaminations appear band-wise along most of the sampled lines, revealing a V-shaped profile consistent with the ice flow field already observed. Similarities to activities found in ice cores permit the isochronal lines at the glacier from 1960 and 1963 to be identified. Hence this information is used to fine-tune an ice flow/mass balance model, and to accurately map the age of the entire glacier ice. Our results indicate the strong potential for combining radionuclide contamination and ice flow modeling in two different ways. First, such tracers provide unique information on the long-term ice motion of the entire glacier (and not only at its surface), and on the long-term mass balance, and therefore offer an extremely valuable data tool for calibrating ice flows within a model. Second, the dating of surface ice is highly relevant when conducting “horizontal ice core sampling”, i.e., when taking chronological samples of surface ice from the distant past, without having to perform expensive and logistically complex deep ice-core drilling. In conclusion, our results show that an airplane which crash-landed on the Gauligletscher in 1946 will likely soon be released from the ice close to the place where pieces have emerged in recent years, thus permitting the prognosis given in an earlier model to be revised considerably.