Articles | Volume 2, issue 1
Research article
05 Mar 2014
Research article |  | 05 Mar 2014

A two-sided approach to estimate heat transfer processes within the active layer of the Murtèl–Corvatsch rock glacier

M. Scherler, S. Schneider, M. Hoelzle, and C. Hauck

Abstract. The thermal regime of permafrost on scree slopes and rock glaciers is characterized by the importance of air flow driven convective and advective heat transfer processes. These processes are supposed to be part of the energy balance in the active layer of rock glaciers leading to lower subsurface temperatures than would be expected at the lower limit of discontinuous high mountain permafrost. In this study, new parametrizations were introduced in a numerical soil model (the Coup Model) to simulate permafrost temperatures observed in a borehole at the Murtèl rock glacier in the Swiss Alps in the period from 1997 to 2008. A soil heat sink and source layer was implemented within the active layer, which was parametrized experimentally to account for and quantify the contribution of air flow driven heat transfer on the measured permafrost temperatures. The experimental model calibration process yielded a value of about 28.9 Wm−2 for the heat sink during the period from mid September to mid January and one of 26 Wm−2 for the heat source in the period from June to mid September. Energy balance measurements, integrated over a 3.5 m-thick blocky surface layer, showed seasonal deviations between a zero energy balance and the calculated sum of the energy balance components of around 5.5 Wm−2 in fall/winter, −0.9 Wm−2 in winter/spring and around −9.4 Wm−2 in summer. The calculations integrate heat exchange processes including thermal radiation between adjacent blocks, turbulent heat flux and energy storage change in the blocky surface layer. Finally, it is hypothesized that these deviations approximately equal unmeasured freezing and thawing processes within the blocky surface layer.