Observation of High Sediment Concentrations in Jumble River Ice

21 May 2024

Ice formation is generally considered to exclude many particles and most solutes and thus be relatively pure compared to ambient waters. Because river ice forms by a combination of thermal and mechanical processes, some level of sediment entrainment in the ice column is likely, though reports of sediment in river ice are limited. We observed high and sporadic levels of silt and sand in ice of the Kuskokwim and Tanana rivers (Alaska, USA) during routine field studies. These observations led us to make a more comprehensive survey of sediment entrainment in river ice of the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers and several of their tributaries. We collected and subsampled 48 ice cores from 19 different river locations in March 2023, which included concurrent measurements of water turbidity, velocity, and depth. Sixty percent of cores contained detectable levels of sediment, averaging 438 mg/L with median concentrations exceeding 1000 mg/L in three cores from the Yukon and Kuskokwim mainstems. Many cores had even higher concentrations at certain intervals, with seven cores having subsamples exceeding 2000 mg/L; these were often located in the middle or lower portion of the ice column. Jumble ice, formed mechanically by frazil-pan jamming during freeze-up, was generally the best predictor of higher sediment entrainment, and these locations often had higher under-ice velocities and depths. Our observation of high and widespread sediment entrainment in northern river ice, particularly in jumble-ice fields, may have implications for sediment transport regimes, ice strength and transportation safety, and how rivers break up in the springtime.

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