Subglacial Conduit Roughness: Insights From Computational Fluid Dynamics Models

Yunxiang Chen, Xiaofeng Liu, Jason D. Gulley, Kenneth D. Mankoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Flow resistance in subglacial conduits regulates the basal water pressure and sliding speeds of glaciers by controlling drainage efficiency and conduit enlargement and closure. Flow dynamics within subglacial conduits, however, remain poorly understood due to limited accessibility. Here we report the results of the first computational fluid dynamics simulations of flow within a realistic subglacial conduit beneath Hansbreen, a polythermal glacier in Svalbard, Norway. The simulated friction factor is 2.34 ± 0.05, which is around 5 to 230 times greater than values (0.01–0.5) commonly used in glacier hydrological modeling studies. Head losses from sinuosity and cross-sectional variations dominate flow resistance (∼ 94%), whereas surface roughness from rocks and ice features contributes only a small portion (∼6%). Most glacier hydrology models neglect head losses due to sinuosity and cross-sectional variations and thus severely underestimate flow resistance, overestimating the conduit peak effective pressure by 2 times and underestimating the conduit enlargement area by 3.4 times, respectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11,206-11,218
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number20
StatePublished - Oct 28 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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