A three-dimensional numerical model of the confluence area of Unteraargletscher, Bernese Alps, Switzerland

G. Hilmar Gudmundsson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Citations (Scopus)


With the use of a numerical three-dimensional (3-D) model the flow dynamics of the confluence area of Unteraargletscher, Bernese Alps, Switzerland, are studied. Previous predictions, based on conceptual two-dimensional models, about flow characteristics at confluence areas are tested against results from the fully 3-D model. Measured winter velocities are used for model verification. Despite some consistent systematic differences, good overall agreement between measured and calculated surface velocities is obtained. The calculated vertical strain-rate variation with depth is in good agreement with available measurements from boreholes. The ice is found to be almost three times stiffer than standard estimates of rheological parameters for glacier ice would predict. The model predicts a complicated yet realistic pattern of vertical velocity variation along the surface. The most noticeable features of the vertical velocity distribution across the surface are listed, and their relation to topographic surface undulations and the overall dynamics of the confluence discussed. In accordance with previous results from analytical models, a strongly localized surface trough and a concomitant negative (downward orientation) vertical velocity anomaly develop at the junction point. Although depth-integrated strain rates are positive (extension), the basal layer is compressed vertically. The ice-cored medial moraine is formed by differential ablation. The flow mechanics of the confluence area play only an indirect role, by enabling transfer of debris-covered marginal ice towards the confluence center. In the absence of differential ablation, an elongated surface depression would be formed in the down-glacier direction from the junction point instead of an elevated ice-cored medial moraine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-230
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Glaciology
Issue number150
Publication statusPublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


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