Discharge and suspended sediment dynamics during two jokulhlaups in the Skafta river, Iceland

GH Old, Damian Lawler, A Snorrason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

40 Citations (Scopus)


This paper investigates the dynamics and significance of discharge and suspended sediment transport (SST) during two jokulhlaups (glacier outburst floods) in the Skafta River, south Iceland. Jokulhlaups occur frequently in many glacial environments and are highly significant in the gemorphological evolution of river basins and coastal environments. However, direct high-resolution monitoring of jokulhlaups has rarely been accomplished and hardly ever at more than one station in a downstream sequence. Here we present detailed data on jokulhlaup discharge and water quality from an intensive monitoring and sampling programme at two sites in summer 1997 when two jokulhlaups occurred. Evidence is discussed that supports the origin of both jokulhlaups being subglacial reservoirs, produced over several months by subglacial geothermal activity. At the downstream site, Asa-Eldvatn, the larger jokulhlaup (1) had a peak discharge of 572 m(3) s(-1) and a peak suspended sediment flux of 4650 kg s(-1)(channel-edge value) or 4530 kg s(-1) (cross-sectional). These values compare to the non-jokulhlaup flow of 120 m(3) s(-1) and suspended sediment flux of 190 kg s(-1)(channel-edge) or 301 kg s(-1) (cross-sectional). Significantly, the jokulhlaups transported 18(.)8 per cent of the annual runoff and 53 per cent of the annual suspended sediment transport in 6(.)6 per cent of the year. Furthermore, water chemistry, suspended sediment and seismic data suggest that volcanic activity and geothermal boiling (possibly including steam explosions) may have occurred during Jokulhlaup 1. The research illustrates the value of integrating high-resolution, multi-point field monitoring of meteorological, hydrological, hydrochemical, geomorphological and seismological data for understanding the dynamics, significance and downstream translation of jokulhlaups. Copyright (c) 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1441-1460
Number of pages20
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2005


  • glacial outburst floods
  • suspended sediment
  • volcanic activity
  • turbidity
  • jokulhlaup
  • steam explosions
  • discharge
  • Iceland


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