Three hypotheses exist to explain how meteorological variables drive the amount and concentration of solute-enriched water from rock glaciers: (1) Warm periods cause increased subsurface ice melt, which releases solutes; (2) rain periods and the melt of long-lasting snow enhance dilution of rock-glacier outflows; and (3) percolation of rain through rock glaciers facilitates the export of solutes, causing an opposite effect as that described in hypothesis (2). This lack of detailed understanding likely exists because suitable studies of meteorological variables, hydrologic processes and chemical characteristics of water bodies downstream from rock glaciers are unavailable. In this study, a rock-glacier pond in the North-Western Italian Alps was studied on a weekly basis for the ice-free seasons 2014 and 2015 by observing the meteorological variables (air temperature, snowmelt, rainfall) assumed to drive the export of solute-enriched waters from the rock glacier and the hydrochemical response of the pond (water temperature as a proxy of rock-glacier discharge, stable water isotopes, major ions and selected trace elements). An intra-seasonal pattern of increasing solute export associated with higher rock-glacier discharge was found. Specifically, rainfall, after the winter snowpack depletion and prolonged periods of atmospheric temperature above 0 °C, was found to be the primary driver of solute export from the rock glacier during the ice-free season. This occurs likely through the flushing of isotopically- and geochemically-enriched icemelt, causing concomitant increases in the rock-glacier discharge and the solute export (SO4 2−, Mg2+, Ca2+, Ni, Mn, Co). Moreover, flushing of microbially-active sediments can cause increases in NO3 − export.

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Keywords Alps, Permafrost, Rock glacier, Solute export, Water chemistry
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Journal Science of the Total Environment
Colombo, N. (Nicola), Gruber, S, Martin, M. (Maria), Malandrino, M. (Mery), Magnani, A. (Andrea), Godone, D. (Danilo), … Salerno, F. (Franco). (2018). Rainfall as primary driver of discharge and solute export from rock glaciers: The Col d'Olen Rock Glacier in the NW Italian Alps. Science of the Total Environment, 639, 316–330. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.05.098